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 (MARIAL Center) 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 and at Barnes & Noble at Menlo Park Mall, 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
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, WA 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 Shoprite or Wegmans.
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.
You can purchase both at Bed, Bath & Beyond, or try Target near Menlo Park. 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.”