If your family is anything like mine, it seems like we’re always running around on the go from one commitment to another. When it comes to dinner, it’s so easy to run through a drive thru, order pizza, or eat “junk” (as my kiddos call it…and “junk” is their favorite food). Just the thought of coordinating a homemade dinner and having it on the table each night is often completely overwhelming. I get it! I get not having the time, not knowing what to make, being stuck in a rut, feeling overwhelmed, and not wanting to deal with the complaints of the littles (and some bigs, too). Your fears are justified! But…you knew it was coming…I’m a big fan of connecting as a family for dinner.
Eating at home is a healthier option than eating fast food, takeout or delivery. But more importantly, connecting as a family around the dinner table is powerful. It encourages connection and helps promote healthier family relationships.
“According to a number of reports issued by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), children who eat at least five times a week with their family are at lower risk of developing poor eating habits, weight problems or alcohol and substance dependencies, and tend to perform better academically than their peers who frequently eat alone or away from home.”
This is not a guilt trip, so please don’t read it as one! This is more a wake up call that you have the potential to profoundly impact your children in a positive way simply by making dinner and eating together.
I know, I know…this is all fine and well and you’d love to do that but just don’t know how. This is where I can help! I realize it can seem pretty overwhelming to find things to eat that the entire family will enjoy. I have a few tips up my sleeve that can make eating at home far less time consuming and complicated. My philosophy? Keep it simple and work ahead. You can all eat the same thing but perhaps in a slightly different way.
Let me give you some real suggestions and examples for you to use as a jumping off point to find out what works best for your family.
1. Make a plan. Don’t stop reading now! Seriously, it doesn’t need to be elaborate. My two-week plan typically looks something like this:
Sunday: Chicken (breasts/nuggets), veggies & rice
Monday: Beef (meatballs), veggies, marinara/mozzarella & bread
Tuesday: Chicken (shredded or nuggets), veggies, quesadillas/cheese, fruit
Wednesday: Beef (hamburgers), buns/cheese, oven fries, fruit
Thursday: Beef (tacos), soft/hard shells/cheese, veggies, rice
Friday: Pizza (make your own or take out)
Saturday: Chicken (breasts/nuggets), potatoes, veggies
Sunday: Pork (shredded), tortillas/cheese, veggies
Monday: Chicken (nuggets), oven fries, veggies
Tuesday: Pork (medallions), veggies, rice
Wednesday: Beef (tacos), soft/hard shells/cheese, veggies, rice
Thursday: Pork (shredded), cheese, rolls, fruit
Friday: Chicken (breasts/nuggets), veggies, fruit
Saturday: Beef (spaghetti)
*Note: You can schedule leftover night. We typically eat leftovers for lunch.
I’ve found that the most time consuming and overwhelming part of dinner is the main protein, so if I’ve got that planned or prepped, I’m typically good to go and can have dinner on the table in under 20 minutes. Honestly! [Directions on how to execute these meals is in Tip 3!]
2. Grocery shop. Seems obvious, right? But it often gets pushed to the back burner or we head out without a real list. Once you have your meal schedule for the week, you can hit the store! You’ll be able to determine how much of each type of meat you’ll need and what sides/essentials you’ll need for dinners for the week. Once you have your list made, you can head to the store, do your shopping and leave confident and ready for the week!
3. Cook your meat. Take Week 1 that has chicken, beef and pizza on the menu. On Sunday (or whatever day you have time) cook all your meat. Yes, your meat for the whole week. So you’d make nuggets, shred some chicken that you’ve cooked in the crockpot (or oven), and bake up some whole breasts. Making nuggets is as simple as cutting raw chicken breasts into chunks, throwing them in a ziplock bag with some breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, and then shaking the heck out of them to coat them. Put the coated chicken “nuggets” on a baking sheet and throw them in the oven at 400 for 20 minutes. If you like extra crispy nuggets add about 4 minutes under the broiler and you’re good to go!
4. Make the commitment to stick to your plan. This is likely the hardest step initially as it’s really tempting to revert back to old habits. And, let’s face it, sometimes McDonald’s or Portillo’s sounds better than eating at home. But making the intentional choice to connect with your family and eat more nutritiously is definitely worth the effort!
5. Sit down at the table and eat with your family. Wait and have everyone sit down at the same time. Resist the temptation to engage in technology or to watch your family eat while you grab a bite here and there standing up. Sit down with them. Put your phones/devices away. Talk. Engage. Make eye contact. These are the moments your kiddos will remember. Your effort will be worthwhile. And while you might not notice the benefits immediately, I promise you they will come. It takes some effort. It takes some work. But eating at home as a family pays off.
There you go! I’ve outlined a rough plan with steps to get you started. Don’t head to Pinterest and pull up a ton of new recipes. Keep it simple. Make food your family likes. Take the time each week to put together a plan. Be flexible (if nuggets work better than shredded, go with nuggets). You can adjust on the fly and use what you have on hand and make it work. The time together will likely be more impressionable and memorable than the food. So give yourself some grace as you’re getting started learning how to do dinner at home. Put up with what will likely be a few complaints and grumbles, and stand your ground. You can do this! It’s time to find balance! Your family (and your health) is worth the effort!