We’ve all heard the chorus of recommendations: to prevent hazards from juvenile delinquency to childhood obesity, eat dinner together as a family. But with working parents and kids’ schedules crammed with activities, how do you actually make that happen?
In this online discussion, Tanya Altmann, MD, offers a few tips:
- Switch the “family dinner” to the “family bedtime snack” (fruit salad or yogurt).
- If dinner is impossible, set aside time in the calendar for one family dinner a week.
- Pack the weekend with family meals to “catch up” after a busy week.
One woman sought answers to every working mom’s dilemma: what to prepare for dinner when you walk in the door 20 minutes before it’s time to eat? Another suggested the busy family’s best friend: the crock-pot -- even if it’s hot out! Someone else suggested precooking and freezing meals on the weekends, noting that her family bought a separate chest freezer for just this purpose.
On one weekend day a month, she said, she plans and preps these meals -- marinating and spicing meat, parboiling veggies in dinner-sized portions -- and freezes them for the month ahead. A whiteboard in the kitchen announces the day’s menu, and whoever gets home first starts it cooking. With everything already prepped, cooking and serving time takes no more than half an hour.
Altmann recommends involving children in the meals by letting each family member pick a day of the week to be in charge of the menu. (Younger ones may need some help at first.) Homemade pizza or taco night is always a big hit.
When dinner is delayed and kids just can’t wait, something one reader said she struggles with, Altmann suggests offering the kids a bowl of fruit or veggies to tide them over, rather than unhealthier snacks. Another reader suggests a spoonful of peanut butter to get the kids through to the dinner bell.