How to Make Family Dinners Happen
If you want to make cooking and eating together at home more doable, try these tips:
1. Schedule It
Look at your family's schedules – is there one night that looks more manageable than the others? If so, make that "family meal night." Put it on everyone's calendar and plan on being home at a certain time – keep that "appointment" just as you would keep a business meeting, a doctor's appointment or a sports practice.
2. Weekend Togetherness
Try to eat at least one meal together over the weekend; it can be breakfast, lunch or dinner. Again, make it part of your family's routine. Once you do get the gang together, keep the kids at the table even after they've finished eating. Use that time to just talk – about something in the news, school updates, or plans for your next family vacation.
3. Meal Plan
Spending half an hour planning the week's dinner meals can actually save you hours of harried trips to the grocery store, and the dread of having to come up with something for dinner. (See our suggested meal plan below.)
4. Plan B
If the family is finally going to eat a meal together, but you don't have anything planned for dinner… wing it. Pick up something from a restaurant, use healthy frozen dinners, or even have a cereal and fruit night. The point is to keep to your schedule of eating together.
5. Keep it Light
Family meal night is a great opportunity to grow closer to your children and your husband. Try to leave heavy topics or criticisms for another time. Make the environment loving and nurturing.
If you want to try doing more cooking and eating at home, consider using a weekly schedule like the one below:
Sunday / Pasta Day
Venture out of the ordinary – try wheat pastas or blends. Boil up a different pasta each week and try different sauces. (You can often find buy one get one free deals on jar pasta sauces.) Consider "white" sauces like a combo of extra virgin olive oil, a dash of salt and parmesan cheese.
Serve a salad or vegetables as a side dish, along with fresh bread. If you want to add meat to the meal, make up some meatballs and freeze some for future Sundays.
Make Ahead Mondays
This is a good day to use the crock pot. Set it up Sunday evening, and let it slow cook until Monday morning. Place it in a serving dish before you head out the door on Monday morning, so it's good to go when you get home Monday evening.
Again, try to double your recipe so you can freeze some for another day.
Breakfast for Dinner Tuesdays
Breakfast for dinner is fun. You can make pancakes, French toast, waffles, omelets – or eggs any way your family will eat them. Add a breakfast type meat like bacon or sausage (yes, there are healthy brands of both), and include a side dish of fruit. Oatmeal with all of the fixin's – brown sugar, cream and cinnamon, is also a great evening dish.
White Meat Wednesday
Prepare a chicken or pork dish on Wednesdays. Alternate between the two so your family doesn't get chicken overload.
Try different ethic foods on Thursday nights – if Thai or Indian is old hat for your family, explore the food aisles at your grocery store for other options. But, most kids love Mexican and Italian foods, so keep those in the rotation too.
This is where you roll out the hot dogs (again, there are healthy hot dogs available), hamburgers or sloppy Joes. Mac and cheese and nachos also "qualify" for Fun Friday status.
Hopefully you'll have a good reserve of leftovers to serve buffet style on Saturday night.
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