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I know, I know, you get home from work, pick up kids from practice or club meetings then they have homework and showers and reading before bed and before you know it the sky is dark and you can barely shovel some baked frozen nuggets in everyone’s mouth much less sit down to a family meal.
I know. I just did it the last two nights. I was in Manhattan for the days, off the train just in time to get everyone moved into homework and then off to a meetings at seven and webinars at eight. The days are short. They are packed full of everyone’s activities. Often, dinner is a struggle so why add it to your already hectic, stressed out schedule?
I’d argue because it’s one of the most important things we can do as parents. We eat dinner together almost every night in this house (minus dad some nights) and I will tell you it is the best part of the day and it gets better as the kids get older. We talk, we laugh and we connect-sometimes for the only time all day.
Do they sometimes share their negative feelings about the dish I’ve so lovingly prepared? Of course. Do they fight? Sometimes. Is there spilled milk or water? Often. But none of that cancels out the benefits.
Not only are there really important food and nutrition lessons taught at family dinner, but there are life lessons that come through our conversations and behaviors at dinner. There are manners lessons and sharing lessons and practice having polite conversations. We talk through relationships at school and sometimes I hear about challenges and conflicts I might not hear about with the simple, “how was your day?” conversation that happens at other times.
I can wax romantic about the power of sitting at a common table as long as I want, but how does that help you? Instead, I’ll tell you some things I do that make it possible to have this time together even when we are going in five different directions for the rest of the day.
- Demand the time of your family and yourself: You’re still the parent and you can still make command performance calls for a while. If you have busy teens, make dinner later and maybe only demand two or three nights a week. There really isn’t anything that should keep a kid out of your house until beyond a reasonable meal time every single night. If play practice goes past 7:30 five nights a week (anytime other than dress rehearsal week), you may want to re-think the play. The hardest demand may be on yourself. Be reasonable but step it up if you have to. Pick two days to ensure you’re home in time, then make it happen. My husband never misses weekend nights unless we go out together and then we sit with our kids while they eat. During the week, we can usually count on one night. After writing this, I might start asking him to guarantee that.
- Keep it simple: I love to cook and I share recipes here all the time. You don’t have to use them! If cooking isn’t your thing, find four or five meals you can handle and rotate them. Kids and parents love spaghetti, and tacos. How about a salad and baked chicken breasts? The only thing you have to remember is taking the meat out of the freezer. And dessert? Around here it’s almost always two Joe Joes cookies or a tube of yogurt. They love it and I have to do no work!
- Have a Plan: I know, you may have just tuned out at this but it doesn’t have to be a huge task to plan meals. It CAN be, but it doesn’t have to be. When I hear people complain about not having time to cook, what I hear most is that they get home from a hard day and have no idea WHAT to cook. No wonder they run out of time. Try this: Sunday night in front of Real Housewives, or Sunday afternoon in front of football, make a list of five or ten meals and a corresponding grocery list. Then for ten days you know exactly what you’re coming home to and you can whip it up while you’re helping with homework. Wait, you grocery shop on Saturday mornings or Thursday night? Well, then switch your planning to another evening during the week or one lunch hour at work when you’d be playing Angry Birds over your sandwich, get out a calendar and browse the internet for recipes instead. With just a little planning, you’ll actually save time and lower your stress level in the end.
- Rotate: I love taking the summer off from motherhood to a point. We still eat together every night, but my compulsive planning goes out the window. I rotate the meals that I used in spring. I still have a plan, but it came from the days when I had (or chose to use) more time for planning. Don’t think you have to constantly come up with new ideas. We had spaghetti every single Monday of my childhood and I never got tired of it.
- Get the kids in on it at every stage: I’ve just recently asked my kids to list their favorites so I can add them to our rotation. I’m slowly but surely allowing them into the kitchen too. I’m a control freak about cooking so this has been a slow process, but I’m all for “allowing” them to set the table, pour drinks, and help with clean up. The more they are involved, the less they complain about the meal and the less work you have to do.
- Lower Your Standards: My table is never perfectly set. The meals are often served out of what they’re cooked in and some nights, the kids take exactly the one bite of everything they are required before leaving the table. A complete failure? Maybe, but at least we sat together and chatted a bit while I tried not to yell over them not eating. I find if “pleasant” is my only requirement, dinners are much better for everyone. So have fun. Enjoy your family and worry about everything else after they’re in bed.
I’d love to hear your tips or even how you’re doing with some of these. Don’t worry, I can take what you have to say because my skin is thick. I feel three kids every night, I know criticism.
Don’t forget to help Walgreens help others! Visit their Facebook page here to learn about their charitable partners and decide which cause Walgreens will donate to with a quick vote. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.
P.S. Looking for more parenting guidance and tips for self-care? Check out From Chaos to Calm a guided training to help you feel better in this tough season.