Updated July 21, 2017
When I was growing up, my family regularly ate dinner together around the kitchen table. And now that I’m an adult, I’m grateful for the choices my parents made to create that routine. I know it wasn’t always easy — especially with time-sucking afterschool activities and us kids constantly begging to eat in front of the television or go out for dinner. But today, my siblings and I are adventurous yet healthy eaters and creative home cooks. I credit that to our family dinners.
Recipe: Easy Red Lentil Mac-and-Cheese
Watch the video tutorial:
It’s More than a Meal
Preparing meals at home gives parents control over both the quality and quantity of food and provides a place for parents and older children to model good eating habits for younger children.
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 five 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.
Get Them Engaged
The final meal of the day is about much more than rounding out your nutritional requirements. Dinner is a time (maybe the only time) to come together, catch up and talk about the day, so get the whole family invested before they even pick up their forks.
- 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 or foods they want to try.
- Set a specific time for dinner and stick to it on family dinner nights. This way, people aren’t making calls, sending just one more email or running a quick errand when dinner is ready.
- Have one of the kids set the table and encourage creativity by adding cloth napkins, placemats, name cards or flowers.
- Turn off the television and other distractions. And please, no phones or tablets at the table. (That includes adults too!)
What about the time is takes to make a wholesome dinner? Here are some shortcuts:
- Buy some. Make some. Mix prepared and homemade foods to save time and still provide complete nutrition at each meal. Use frozen brown rice with a stir-fry. Rely on canned beans for tacos and salads. Check out our prepared soups for fresh warm meals. Or buy a roasted chicken for burritos, salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes.
- Kiss the cooker. Learn to cook with a slow cooker, and you'll return at the end of the day to a dinner that's ready to serve. Here’s a collection of our favorite slow cooker recipes.
- Big batch cooking. Cook several meals or staple ingredients such as quinoa, beans, ground beef or chicken during the weekend and refrigerate or freeze them to be reheated later during the week. Check out this blog post for recipe ideas for big batch cooking and this How to Batch Cook and Freeze video.
The key to successfully making dinner with limited time and still drawing the whole family to the table is choosing a recipe that’s short on steps but big on flavor. Checking out these tasty dishes, and answer the “what’s for dinner” question with ease.