When you dreamed of having a family, mealtime likely resembled something out of a Leave It to Beaver episode. But in reality it may feel more like The Amazing Race.
Between work hours, kids’ activities, and picky eaters, it’s hard to sit down and have a decent meal together– especially one that satisfies all parties.
Luckily, there are ways to make family mealtime easier. Not totally effortless – because as with everything in life, priorities require time and effort – but definitely more pleasurable for parents and kids alike.
Before you can get started implementing the following tips, it’s best to sit down with your partner and decide what’s realistic for your family. Some parents want to have dinner together with the kids every night. Others could never make schedules coincide that frequently, and instead opt for meals together on the weekends, or once a week. Once you and your partner determine what will work best for your own family, try some of the following strategies to make mealtime a lot more fun.
1. Involve the kids in meal planning. Whether your child offers meal ideas each week, comes with you to the grocery store to pick out his favorite fruits and vegetables, or pulls basil leaves off the stems while you chop garlic, he will love helping you with meal preparation and will be more likely to eat whatever food is being served.
2. Give everyone a job. If you’re doing all the work yourself, it’s going to feel like work, not fun. So be sure to delegate. Have one person prep ingredients, another person set the table, and another person do the dishes. You may still end up shouldering the bulk of the cooking, but you’ll be happy to have the company of a kitchen full of contributors.
3. Feature the favorite meals of each person. Family members of all ages will appreciate seeing their favorite dishes appear on the dinner table from time to time. This system may even get you some extra help from the “featured family member” on the night her famous lasagna bubbles away in the oven!
4. Play games. Conversation will flow more easily on some nights than others. For the meals where everyone seems to be mute, seek help from a conversation-starter, like the “Question Game.” One person will think of a dreamy or thought-provoking question, like “Where would you go on vacation if you could leave tomorrow?” or “How can our family do more to help those in need?” and everyone gives their take. Before long, you’ll not only be having fun but will also be getting to know each other better.
5. Be realistic. If you hate to cook, you probably shouldn’t plan to make meals from scratch seven nights a week. If you have teenagers who can barely find the time to come home, you may not want to require that they dine with you every Friday and Saturday night. And if you have a baby who falls asleep before sundown, family mealtime at your house probably won’t include everyone. But none of these factors mean that dinners together at your house cannot be a reality. Just develop a policy that both parents feel good about and give it a try. You can always adjust it as you go along.
The Big Question:
Is there anything you do that makes family mealtime a success at your house? Please share your tips with us in the comments section!
Washington State University – Research on the benefits of family meals
Above photo courtesy of The Kidchencoach a.k.a. Deb Glasser, MS, RD