My parents taught me that good food will bring people to the table and great company will keep them there. Despite evening swim practices, music lessons and long work hours, my family ate dinner together as often as possible. Sunday dinners were a requirement. (In fairness, with my parents cooking elaborate meals on Sundays that filled the house with tantalizing aromas hours before mealtime, none of us would want to stay away.) Weeknight meals, however, were less elaborate yet still packed with nutrition and flavor. I credit these family dinners as the reason I enjoy cooking and lingering conversation-filled meals as much as I do today.
Rediscovering the Family Table
The final meal of the day is about much more than rounding out your nutritional requirements. With the kids back in school and back in extracurricular activities, dinner is a time (maybe the only time) to come back together, regroup, catch up and talk about the day. Plus, the family dinner table also provides a place for parents and older children to model good eating habits and table manners for younger children. Some studies suggest that children who eat meals with their parents have healthier eating habits than those who don't. Families that eat together at home tend to consume less fast food and more fruits and vegetables, and preparing meals at home gives parents control over both the quality and quantity of food. With childhood obesity on the rise in the United States, many experts also recommend that parents:
- Serve sensible portion sizes so kids know that "supersized" isn't normal.
- Help kids understand how to eat until they are comfortably satisfied, but not full.
- Let children serve themselves as early as age 5 so they begin to regulate portions themselves.
- Don't pressure kids to clear their plates; encourage them to judge fullness by physical rather than visual cues.
With so many different schedules to coordinate, the question will likely arise, “How can we get everyone to sit down at the same time at a reasonable hour?” Make dinnertime a hands-on group activity! Here are ideas to get the whole family engaged in meal preparations and eating together at mealtime with less stress.
- Allow each family member to choose the menu on a regular rotation.
- Have family members check out recipes in cookbooks or online and choose a few new recipes.
- Set a specific time for meals and stick to it. If something comes up, make it into a family event so you still end up sharing a meal.
- Have one of the kids set the table for the whole family and encourage creativity by adding fun cloth napkins, placemats or flowers.
- Learn to cook with a pressure cooker or slow cooker to make meal prep easier on everyone's schedule. You'll return at the end of the day to a dinner that's ready to serve.
- Cook several meals over the weekend and refrigerate or freeze them to be reheated later during the week. This could make a great hands-on weekend activity with the kids.
- Mix prepared and homemade foods to save time and still provide complete nutrition at each meal. (E.g. turn a rotisserie chicken into tacos, a salad or soup.)
- Turn off the television and other distractions. And please, no phones at the table. (That includes adults too!) Play soothing music or light candles to set the ambience if you choose.
Delicious Meals to Savor
The key to successfully making dinner with limited time and still filling the seats at your table is choosing a recipe that’s short on steps but big on flavor. These five meals fit the bill.
- Turkey Burgers - Savor the last days of grilling with homemade turkey burgers. Serve with toppings such as sliced cheddar, pickled red onions, baby greens and heirloom tomatoes.
- Start with Chicken – Bird is the word! Pick up a rotisserie chicken (ours are Global Animal Partnership 5-Step™ rated!) and serve with sautéed kale tossed with 365 Everyday Value® Organic Rice Pilaf. Dinner is ready in 25 minutes or less.
- Colorful Pasta – Toss together a robust vegan meal with whole wheat pasta and a colorful mixture of sautéed chopped kale, onions, white beans and sundried tomatoes.
- Simple Classic – Use in-season heirloom tomatoes for a delicious dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches with thick slices of tomato in them. Serve a green salad or soup on the side.
- Quick Fish Dish – Season and bake fillets of responsibly farmed tilapia while assembling a quick slaw of red cabbage, diced avocado and salsa.
Looking for more dinner ideas to draw the whole family to the table? Get inspired (and hungry) by checking out these eight tasty dishes.
Does your family come together at dinnertime? What’s your secret to bringing everyone to the table?