You already know that eating together as a family is a good idea. Most people hope to share happy mealtimes with their children and build memories together. Research also shows that there are many benefits to eating together:
- Increased fruit and vegetable consumption
- More desirable eating habits and healthy eating behaviors
- Increased opportunity to try new foods, feeling better, and improving relationships
- Reduced risk of disordered eating, alcohol and substance use, violent behavior, and feelings of depression or thoughts of suicide, increased self-esteem and school success
Yet, today it can feel harder than ever to get everyone around the table, phones/tablets down, at the same time. Then, mealtime can become a battle of the tastes with everyone expecting foods that they like and will eat. But, with a little creative planning, mealtime can go more smoothly for everyone, whether it’s a group of ten or two, family meal time can be enjoyable.
You might be wondering: What should I make? When can I get to the store? What should I do with all the leftovers?
To help you on your way, I have put together six straightforward strategies that you can try, no matter what size your family and how crazy your schedule might be.
- Keep it simple: Do what works. This might be breakfast for dinner, peanut butter and jelly, or a store-bought rotisserie chicken. Recently, the idea of snack trays has become an easy, popular dinner idea. Create a big tray of veggies, fruits, nuts, precooked meats, cut up cheese, and dips to create a tapas style experience. Know that it doesn’t have to be an elaborate or even a cooked meal. Smoothies and sandwiches are totally okay, too. As are eggs and toast!
- For some no-brainer structure, try theme nights. Think meatless Mondays, taco Tuesdays, kids cook night (Raddish is a cooking club for kids raddishkids.com), Mediterranean, Asian, create your own/bar style options: pasta or baked potato bars, nacho bar, and even breakfast for dinner night
- Something for everyone: For kids/not yet adventurous eaters, try to pair the unfamiliar with the familiar. For example, if you are making your favorite coconut curry but worry that the kids won’t touch it, serve their favorite fruit and have bread and butter on the table so they will be able to find something to fill up on, while being exposed to the other flavors. You never know when they might be ready to try it. Conversely, when serving the kids’ favorite entrée, ie. Spaghetti or chicken nuggets the adults may appreciate special flavor additions such as crushed red pepper or fun dipping sauces like zhoug, sriracha, or tahini.
- Cook once eat twice. Batch cook pasta, rice, other grains when you do have more time, and freezing them for future time-limited evenings. When making entrees in the instant pot or slow cooker, double it and freeze for a delicious home cooked meal next month.
- There are apps for that! Apps such as Paprika and Wanderlist (or simply the note section on your phone) can help with scheduling, making grocery lists, and keeping everything organized.
- Lastly, be flexible! Even though you may have thoughtfully planned the night’s dinner, sometimes it doesn’t always work out whether there’s a traffic jam or mom is feeling sick. In these instances, it’s helpful to have a backup plan such as steam able veggies in the bag or bagged salad kits and frozen precooked brown rice or other grain. Pair these with a can of beans or canned salmon or tuna and a yummy premade sauce such as pesto or Thai peanut and it’s a meal in less than 10 minutes. Or, just order a pizza and place the fruit basket on the table and call it a day!
Here’s last weeks‘ mealplan for my family of five:
Monday: leftover frozen baked ziti, salad, fruit
Tuesday: shrimp tacos (make your own) with all the fixins + rugala (Jewish cookies)
Wednesday: grilled balsamic chicken (pre-made from store) with air fried tater tots and baby cauliflower
Thursday: leftover frozen pizza, cut up veggies with dip
Friday: date night! Kids have pizza again! Oh well, it works!
Saturday: French Onion Soup and baked potatoes, salad, and fruit
Sunday: Veggie chili cornbread muffins, salad
Katrina Seidman, MS RDN LDN
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