Raise your hand if your family struggles to eat dinner together…I bet most readers have their hands raised. So many families, mine included, have difficulty finding time to sit down and share a meal together. Long work hours, traveling for work, extracurricular activities and pure exhaustion are just a few of the many reasons family meals don’t always happen. However, dining together has been shown to positively impact both mental and physical health. According to The Family Dinner Project, better academic performance, lower rates of depression and lower rates of obesity are some benefits experienced when families eat dinner together.
So how do you make eating dinner together a reality in your home? As a registered dietitian, I believe eating dinner together should be a priority, but as a full-time working mom, I understand how hard this can be to accomplish. Here are a few tips I use to make eating dinner together easier.
- Plan ahead. Plan a weekly dinner menu then make a grocery list from that menu. To help me stay organized, I use a dry erase board I lovingly refer to as ‘The Command Center.’ This is where I post our grocery list and weekly menu, even if it includes ordering pizza on Friday night. There are several ways to plan your weekly menu and grocery list. For those more technologically savvy than myself, you might try the Prepear app where you can browse recipes, plan a menu and make a grocery list all in one place. As a bonus, all recipes in the app include nutrition information.
- Utilize a grocery service. Going to the grocery store has never bothered me or seemed like a chore–maybe because dietitians typically love food and always find a new item to try. However, now that I have two small children, my time is precious. There are several grocery service options available. It is likely your local grocery store offers grocery curbside pick-up or delivery. Typically, you can opt to allow for product substitutions and add notes to any item to ensure it meets your preferences.
- Get your family involved. Each week ask your family what they would like for dinner. Their input will not only help you plan a menu, it will also help you to incorporate variety and satisfy everyone’s preferences. My three-year-old loves breakfast food, so we do breakfast for dinner one night each week. And don’t just stop at asking your family what they want to see on the menu–ask them to join you in the kitchen as well. Cooking with your family, children especially, is not only a fun activity, but it also helps them explore their senses, develop motor skills, improve basic math skills, develop a sense of responsibility and understand the importance of making smart food choices. Not to mention, children are more apt to eat the foods they help prepare.
- Simplify cooking. One dish meals, sheet pan suppers, slow cooker and instant pot meals are just some of the ways you can simplify cooking and minimizing the time and/or effort it takes to prepare dinner for your family, while still providing wholesome, healthy meals that contain essential nutrients your family needs to be healthy. I personally use my slow cooker at least once a week.
This October join The Dairy Alliance in their Eat Together, Eat Better with Real Dairy Campaign. Learn more about the benefits of eating together, how to plan and prep for nutritious family meals, and find quick and easy recipes by following us on social media:
Stephane H. Yow, MS, RD, CSP, LD is a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in pediatric nutrition. She currently works in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children’s of Mississippi in Jackson where she is responsible for the nutrition management of newborns. She is also a wife and mother of two precious children with whom she enjoys cooking.