Family dinner every night? No big deal.

I sorta feel like everyone’s mother these days. I’m at a certain age where my kids are grown and I spend a lot of time “coaching.”  I’m not allowed to tell anybody what to do anymore so I “coach.”  It seems to keep the peace. I’m hoping I can “coach” others on a very important topic: eating healthy meals together as a family.  

When the kids were growing up, I made dinner for them every night. I also worked and was involved with the kids’ extracurricular activities. It required a little planning and a once- or twice-a- week trip to the grocery store. It wasn’t easy, and some nights, it was a complete failure; but the point is— it happened, most nights a week.

My grown children now are starting to have their own children and can see the importance of making a family meal. I’m proud that core value stuck. I want it to stick for you too, but there’s a small attitude adjustment that needs to take place.

The thing I keep hearing over and over again is that the home cooked family meal is dying because no one has the time or the energy to do it every day. Come on gang, it’s not that hard.  Instead of accepting the mindset that getting a family meal on the table is impossible, simplify it so it’s doable. Most of the pressure of putting a nightly meal together is in your head. A sautéed chicken breast, some blanched broccoli and cut up apples makes a meal. Make it easy and stop overthinking it. Here are some things to consider:

Clear some of the chaos. In my opinion, family schedules these days are ridiculous. If you’ve chosen to have your 3 kids in 3 different sports then you have CHOSEN to make it really hard to have a family meal together most nights. Let me give you a little insight. Sports are great, but a couple of nights a week home together with the gang eating dinner is good too. Ever considered what overscheduling your kids does to them long term? It creates adults who don’t know what to do with free time. They constantly need to be scheduled and are always looking for someone or something to direct them.

Yes, extracurriculars keep kids out of trouble and physically active, but there is a point where everyone just feels like they’ve been run into the ground. I’m watching my younger friends with kids moving so fast from one activity to the other that I have a hard time believing anyone is getting anything out of it. No one looks very happy. Everyone looks exhausted.

It takes 1 hour to set yourself up for success. Just come up with 5 easy meals. Do that on the way to the grocery store. Start with a protein, add a starch, add a fruit or veggie. Sit in the car and make a quick list. Buy the stuff, put it away and you’re good to go. Use the leftovers for lunches. Save calories and money while you use up ingredients.

Home cooked does not mean gourmet. The reality of a home cooked dinner is that it does include some pre-made items and stuff that comes out of a box or can. With all the choices out there, look for convenience items that make your job easier. Just try to look for ones that are healthiest.

Spread the responsibility. It’s unfair that one person has to come up with the plan, buy the food, cook the food and clean up the mess. Ask for help! It takes a village.

There’s no reason why Person #1 can’t give Person #2 a grocery list for them to pick up.

And why can’t Person #3 help prep the meal or help clean it up?

It’s good to put your hands in warm soapy water after a meal, and it’s important for those enjoying a home cooked meal to contribute to the effort.

Lower the “family meal” expectation. Don’t try to force it. As my kids got older, we couldn’t eat together as often, and sometimes when we did, there was more bickering going on then talking. Be realistic, it’s not always perfect. The point is that if your family has been brought up eating dinner together, when their lives settle back down later, that core value will resurface and it will be part of their lives.  

Have a picky eater or two in your group? Don’t make multiple meal options. That’s called a restaurant! Pick one thing that you know most will eat and keep the other side dishes simple (like cut-up-carrots-simple).

The resolution to eat a family meal together is a great start, and the reality is you need to stick with it, be disciplined, and be consistent until it becomes a new habit. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is doable. Stop listening to everyone complain about how hard it is today. With all the technology out there, use tools to make it easier.  

If you’re the person in the family who’s spearheading the job of making dinner and who could use help coming up with simple menu ideas, planning and organizing meals so you can get a healthy meal prepared on most nights, consider using a meal planning tool. Some will provide healthy recipes for dinner with cooking videos and will greatly improve your odds of eating better.

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