Do you eat dinner as a family? We do, nearly every night. It’s important to me, and studies show that the benefits of eating as a family are huge. Unfortunately, with packed schedules and big work commitments, many families have abandoned the family dinner. It’s time to get back to it though.
I’ll be the first to admit that eating together isn’t always easy. Sometimes, my husband doesn’t make it home for dinner. Sometimes, I don’t. But on those days, we make an effort to sit down – whoever is at home – and eat together. What works for us may not work for you … the point is to make it work within the context of your own life.
Recently, I spoke with Jeanne Muchnick, author of Dinner for Busy Moms: Easy Strategies for Getting Food on the Table-Quick, which is coming out in April. Her book is a strategy guide for moms to help families eat together — even when life gets crazy. It explains how to pull together a meal easily and get everyone to the table. It’s a universal concept that reaches any mom struggling to get dinner on the table.
“The bottom line is to not make a mom feel guilty,” explains Muchnick.”Don’t over-schedule your kids so much. Plan to make plans … look at your calendar and try to be realistic about two or maybe three nights a week where you can sit down as a family.”
While I love to cook and do so daily, not everyone enjoys it … or has time to craft a homemade dinner nightly (I’ve been there!). So, what can you do? Muchnick says that moms need to play to their strengths when planning dinner. For instance, if the idea of preparing a main dish gives you the frights, then focus on the side dishes and pick up a rotisserie chicken. Likewise, you can focus on the main dish and go ultra-simple with the sides, says Muchnick.
“Depending on the age of your kids, you can involve them and get them excited,” says Muchnick. She is so right. My two-year-old and four-year-old get really into meals that they have a hand in creating. Salads, which are generally their dish for meals they help with, are something they devour with great ferocity. It’s awesome.
And the payoffs of a family dinner? Huge. “I think once you put the effort in, for me there is just nothing better than when you are all just sitting around. You are just so much more connected,” says Muchnick.
Tips for a Great Family Dinner from Jeanne Muchnick
- Focus on being together – Yes, you have 80 bazillion things to think about, but put them aside and just be together. You can talk about them, but don’t be distracted by them.”Be in the moment…Sometimes I feel that we are all so crazy,” says Muchnick
- Unplug – We are surrounded by technology and connectivity these days, but for the meal time it’s best to just set them aside so you aren’t tempted to check your email or watch that one clip. “I am big on not having the TV on and not having electronic devices,” says Muchnick.
- The More the Merrier – “I do believe in having friends over,” says Muchnick. She says that having peers at the table can lead the kids to open up more, and that is totally a good thing.
- Have Something for Everyone – No one wants to be a short order cook, but you can still plan to serve something that each person likes. “Everyone has different tastes. Give options so there is a little bit of something for everybody,” says Muchnick.
How often does your family eat dinner together? Share!
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. She is the author of four cookbooks including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook and One-Pot Pasta, both from Rockridge Press. A single mother to a tween and a teen, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.