With back-to-school schedules in full swing, it can be a tough time of year to get the family together for dinner each night. But, my friend Christine makes it happen every night, despite having 3 young sons and a husband who travels frequently. I asked for her favorite tips on how to start family dinner time.
1. Make it a priority. This seems obvious, but it’s huge. The first time I met Christine, we were talking about the things we focus on each day. I was rambling about exercising and never folding laundry, and she said, “You know what? The only thing I do each day is make sure we all sit down for dinner.” That statement stuck with me. What could be more important than spending quality time with the people we love? This time is fleeting, and when our kids move out, we won’t remember the missed workouts and wrinkled laundry. We’ll remember the time we spent with them. I’ve talked before about the importance of prioritizing your life (namely, choosing 3 things you will do well, and letting the rest go), and this is a prime example of how effective that can be. Once you name your priorities, it’s easy to let the other stuff go, whether it’s a keeping a perfectly-clean house, calling friends back or folding laundry. (But let’s be honest, I didn’t really need an excuse not to do that last one.)
2. Make the same thing for the whole family. Forget making an “adult” dinner and then mac n’ cheese, chicken nuggets or hot dogs for the kids. “I’m not a short order cook,” Christine says. “I make 1 dinner, and everyone eats it, in some form.” I tell my kids they don’t have to eat what they don’t like, but if they’re still hungry after dinner, they can have an apple.
3. Make simple meals. Plan your dinners once a week, and keep them simple. I do all my meal prep on Sundays and Wednesdays, and it’s helped me lose some of my baby weight, in addition to keeping my life (somewhat) in order. Christine makes spaghetti on Mondays, and she does double-duty meals for the rest of the week. For example, she’ll grill chicken and use it for chicken salad and tacos and barbecue sandwiches. Or, she’ll make a homemade pasta sauce and use it on pasta, pizza and chicken parmesan. Simplify and make it easy on yourself!
4. Plan ahead. Christine always preps dinner in the morning, either before or right after she drops the kids off at school. In fact, she doesn’t even check her email, go on social media or do household chores until dinner is prepped. “If I make dinner at the last minute, it takes longer,” she says, “so if I’m making chicken parmesan, I’ll batter it in the morning and put it in the fridge. Or, I’ll prep the beef patties and put them in the fridge for later.”
5. Focus on table time, not “dinner” time. Sometimes, not everyone is eating, but everyone is still physically at the table. For example, if Christine’s husband gets home late, the family will join him at the table, and while he eats dinner, the kids eat their dessert. The key is face time together. Whether everyone is eating is secondary.
6. Enjoy the conversation! The biggest value of family dinner time is sharing about your day! Sometimes, Christine will ask the kids to share a high and low (or a “rose” and “thorn”) from their day. Other times, it’s her husband who needs to get something off his chest. “The best is when a kid asks Dad about his day, and he explains something — maybe a problem — and talking about it makes him feel better too! Win win!”
How often do you sit down to family dinner? Do you have any tips to share? Let them in the comments!