Over thirty-five years of research shows that family meals nourish the brain, spirit, and health of all family members. This one habit has been linked to better grades for children, reduced risk of teen substance abuse, improved family connectedness, higher intake of fruits and vegetables, reduced risk of obesity, and a number of other impressive positive outcomes.
Despite all the known benefits, family meals are on the decline, and the number one reason cited is lack of time. Between work, school, and extracurricular activities, many families struggle to find the time to gather around the table, especially when you consider the time to actually prepare a meal.
Check out these tips to simplify weeknight dinners and celebrate National Family Meals Month™ by committing to eating one more meal together each week of September.
The biggest key to making family meals a reality is to plan ahead. Find a time in your schedule when you can sit down and map out the meals your family will eat together during the coming week. Be realistic and take into account a day when a family meal just isn’t possible or when the time to cook will be especially short. Put the meals for each day on a calendar or whiteboard on your fridge, or simply use a digital calendar on your phone. Once you’ve got a plan, you can make a shopping list.
Try grocery pick up or delivery
If finding time to get to the grocery store is a challenge, look into options for grocery pick-up or delivery in your area. You might pay a premium for this service, but you may find that you save money in the long run by cooking at home more frequently and reducing impulse purchases in the store.
Utilize healthful convenience foods
Not everything that’s processed is “bad”. I make frequent use of canned beans, frozen vegetables, quick-cooking grains, and store-bought sauces (like pasta sauce, simmer sauces, hummus, and pesto) to build quick and easy meals on the fly.
Try time-saving cooking techniques
- I love sheet pan meals for busy weeknights because after I get everything in the oven, I’m free to do other things until dinner is ready. As a bonus, there’s only one pan to clean!
- One-pot meals can also be super helpful in reducing clean-up time.
- My instant pot is one of my favorite tools for reducing the cooking time of many dishes.
- Pull out the slow cooker on occasions when you have time to prep dinner earlier in the day. I often start our slow cooker just after lunch or during my kids’ afternoon nap time to simplify the hour just before dinner.
Plan for leftovers
If you ask me, there’s nothing better than a simple recipe that can serve my family for two nights. If your family doesn’t like leftovers, try reinventing the meal. For example, turn leftover Three-Cheese Black Bean Chili with Cheddar Crust into a filling for quesadillas.
Remember that dinnertime isn’t the only time you can gather around the table with family. If evenings are too hectic, try eating breakfast together and start the day with an investment in your family’s overall wellness.
Jessica Ivey is a Registered Dietitian and chef with a passion for teaching people to eat healthy for a happy and delicious life. She loves spending time in the kitchen creating original recipes to help busy families eat well and enjoy more meals together. Jessica lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband, three children, and dog.