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Bring Back Family Dinners

Why and how to put this important ritual back into your busy family’s schedule.

If you found one thing that would help your child perform better academically, grow up with a solid sense of self-esteem and resist drugs, alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity, would you do it?

What if it was as easy as having dinner together regularly as a family? 

Research by the Emory University Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life showed that having family dinners together around the table has the potential to provide a child with all of the above benefits.

Here are some ideas and resources that can help you make having a nightly family dinner together a reality.

Great Tips for Really Busy Families in The Family Dinner

The thought of trying to sit down together to a homemade meal every day may seem like an impossible dream to most busy families.

But famous environmentalist, producer and author Laurie David’s book, The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at the Time, available on Amazon.com, gives you fabulous, easy-to-make, kid-pleasing recipes for meals from Kirstin Uhrenholdt, as well as step-by-step chapters on how you can make a daily meal ritual happen for your family.

David’s book is not for “perfect families” devoid of challenges. She devotes a whole chapter, titled “Two Homes, One Table,” to how divorced parents can use a meal with their children to strengthen ties and enhance communication.

She reflects, “When marriages break up, kids need the comfort of routine more than ever.”

Another chapter called “Table Talk” focuses on how to have engaging conversations over a meal.

In another chapter, “Grace Is Gratitude,” David provides a variety of ways families can “say thank you and appreciate life’s gifts,” noting that, “raising grateful kids has got to be one of the most daunting and difficult challenges we face as parents.”

Plan and Cook Ahead

Tanya Steel is the editor of Epicurious.com, a mother of two and the author of Real Food for Healthy Kids: 200+ Easy, Wholesome Recipes, available on Amazon.com.

She says busy parents should “plan your week's dinner menus and include your kids in the decision making process, make a shopping list. Epicurious has a wonderful (and free) shopping list functionality, as does ZipList.

On Sunday, take some time to make a few of the coming nights’ dishes, and double the amounts of things like stews and roasts and freeze half.

Lacey Sabic Puhl is a busy Redmond, Wash., mom of two, about to add co-producer of the school play to her to-do list.

She is also a big fan of planning and cooking ahead.

“I do freezer meals once a month. I make 25 meals I can freeze and then also have fresh meal options that I shop for throughout the month.”

You can find great options for make ahead meals at the Horsham Giant, or Acme stores. 

Crockpots and Pressure Cookers: New Ways to Utilize These “Old School” Cooking Tools to Create Delicious, Easy Meals in Less Time

Crockpots and pressure cookers also offer a huge range of options for time-saving and delicious meals, and have gotten much easier to use over the past decade.

San Diego mom of two and elder care consultant Meg Rich says, “A pressure cooker saves my bacon. They are idiot-proof now. Bean soup in an hour. Stews, pot roasts. Makes risotto in seven minutes with no stirring. Lorna Sass has great cookbooks including Pressure Perfect and The Pressured Cook.”

The Conversations Matters More Than the Food: How to Keep it Flowing

Lacey Sabic Puhl always includes conversation as part of her dinner plan.

“Sitting down for dinner was always a priority for my grandmother, and she lived so close to us that I was found at her table most nights because I loved discussing my day.

Dinner here is served between 6 and 6:30. That way my husband Brian can work as late as he needs and walk in when he can. If he is going to miss dinner, my daughter Anika and I still eat and sit at the table. We always talk about what we did that was the most stupendous thing of the day and talk about anything that is coming up or weekend plans. We have dinner topic cards that we use from time to time too that range from 'What animal would you be?' to 'Who do you think you were in your past life?'

Dinner experiences are such a rewarding thing for kids that I simply made it a priority as soon as we had children in our lives.”

Kelly G February 10, 2013 at 03:43 AM
I agree! As we were raising our family (three daughters) we always had family dinners. And as the girls got older and in many activities in school we had to make our family dinner nite on Sunday. They knew every Sunday was 'family dinner nite'. They were welcome to bring anyone if friends were over or they were out with them but they had to be home for dinner. Then during dinner we would all talk about our week and what we had going on the coming week. Sunday was good because we were home to cook and we had dinner at dinner time. During the week with us all in and out at different times with their sports and jobs, crock pot meals were the best. And someone always sat with the late person so they didn't eat alone and had conversation. The girls always thought my husband and I were silly to have this 'family dinner' each week but now they are starting families of their own, and joke about it all the time. But they did say it was fun and something to look forward to to start out all our busy weeks. Hat's off to bringing back 'family dinner nite!" And turn off tv, radio, and cell phones and have conversation with your children, you will have better relationships with your family if you do. My girls are my best friends and loving every day!

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