In my last article, “Shared Family Meals Can Strengthen Your Relationships”, I talk about the many benefits that families can enjoy by sitting down at the table together and sharing quality time. This is without a doubt one of those things that are simply easier said than done. But not impossible, so how exactly do you make that happen?
Here are a few simple, inexpensive ways to make that elusive family meal happen.
1. Think one sweet little 4 letter word E-A-S-Y
No need to pull out Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In fact, all you need to master is a few fast, simple, and healthy dishes. Preferably a dish or two that everyone in your family will eat. Start with a lean protein like turkey meatballs, roasted salmon, grilled chicken breast and build from there. Add in a veggie and grain like roasted carrots with honey and brown sugar. Brown rice or quinoa. Don’t forget some fresh fruit for dessert. A good meal can be made and served in under a half an hour. Be sure to stock your pantry and freezer with staple items so that you can pull off a meal without needing to make a long, time-consuming trip to the grocery store.
2. Keep an open mind and be flexible in the kitchen
Did you forget you ran out of tomato sauce or you got a call from work and you don’t have those extra 10 minutes to make meatballs, so go for meatloaf instead. Think creatively so your meals can be changed to save time or use different ingredients when you need to make some changes. The only one who will know your original plan is you. No one will miss the dishes that didn’t happen.
3. Engage your family
Once your dinner plates are served and everyone is seated at the table, don’t forget to engage your family. Be sure to turn off the TV, put away those tablets and screens and enjoy each other’s company. Be sure to ask your kids some open-ended questions about their day. Be sure your responses don’t sound judgmental; allow room for them to talk and you to listen. And when they are done talking, be sure to take a turn. Share with your kids about your day. They can learn from you how you model problem-solving strategies from the office and the tough conversations you had. Show them you value their input and their ideas.
4. Lastly, know when to quit
A weeknight family dinner doesn’t need to last more than 20 or 30 minutes. If the conversation is still flowing, go with it. But if the plates are clean and the conversation has run dry, let everyone move on to homework, soccer practice or down time. Don’t forget to have your kids help clear the table. Maybe even load the dishwasher or dry some dishes. A meal should be a team effort where everyone plays a role and gets involved.
Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. Don’t lose sight of why you are doing what you are doing. A family meal should be something that nourishes your family’s bellies and souls. Enjoy the time together!