Let the kids help out.
About once a week the Knoll family of Minneapolis has "Kids Cook Night." Mom Michelle, 38, helps the boys — Alex, 6, Ben, 4, and Max, 11 months — decide what to make by throwing out suggestions and letting them look through recipe books. "I let the boys do as much as they can, but I handle any cutting, the stove, oven, or other potential hazards" says Michelle. "They take pride in their work and love to tell their dad how hard they worked preparing and cooking dinner for the family."
Make the meal a special occasion.
"A fun — and educational — ritual we do once a week is to have 'Polite Night,'" says Gretchen Rubin, 41, of New York City, mom to Eliza, 8, and Eleanor, 2. "Instead of eating casually in the kitchen, we set the dining room table with place mats, cloth napkins, and if I'm being ambitious, a candle. We all practice our best manners — no elbows, no using fingers, no reaching, and napkin in lap. The elegance of the presentation is somewhat offset by my younger daughter throwing food on the floor, but it's a start!"
Have "just-because" celebrations.
"Sometimes we turn the dinner hour into little parties to celebrate random things, like the first day of summer or the dog's birthday" reveals Kara Paul, 34, of Hackettstown, NJ. "The girls — Elena, 9, and Chloe, 4 — make decorations, and I set out a buffet of hors d'oeuvres for dinner (kid-friendly things, like shrimp cocktail, crudités and dip, cheese and crackers, and deviled eggs). We fix fancy drinks, turn on the music, and have a great time."
Dreaming of an easy, healthy dinner?
Scheduling time to eat together is tough enough, but finding healthy meals you can whip up fast is an even bigger challenge. That's why REDBOOK has partnered with Dream Dinners, a national retail chain that provides you with everything you need to assemble delicious, healthy dinners for your family — entrées and sides you can store in your freezer and serve in the weeks ahead.
Here's how it works:
Go to dreamdinners.com to select the entrées you'd like to make. Then book a visit to your local Dream Dinners storefront (there are 206 in 35 states), where you'll assemble the ingredients for meals that can be frozen and popped into the oven any day of the week. It costs around $220 for a 12-meal series — about $18 per meal for six people. During September, you'll be able to make Madras Chicken Curry, an exclusive Dream Dinners recipe developed by REDBOOK. And the first 100 readers who purchase 12 six-serving dinners during the month of September and send in the receipts to REDBOOK will win this cute entertaining set, complete with a pitcher, six tumblers, and a tray. Log on to redbookmag.com/dreamdinners for more information.