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5 Simple strategies for regular family dinners

Many busy parents ask me, how often do you sit down for dinner with your family? 5 nights a week? 3? In recent years, many studies indicate that regular family dinners make our children happier, healthier, and even better students. They perform better in school, are less likely to engage in risky behaviour, and it sets them up for future healthy eating patterns.
For us parents, family dinners allow us to:
 
  • show model behaviour;
  • transmit cultural traditions;
  • and engage in activities that promote literacy, learning, and healthy behaviour.
  • Wow that's an impressive list of positivity, no wonder we feel pressured to have dinner together!
But tonight you work late, you won't have much time to cook. Your daughter should be in bed at 7pm, you've picked up your son from her training at 7.30pm and your husband is away on business. Of course you would love to enjoy a healthy homemade dinner with your family, but you can't see how. It just seems impossible. Does it sound familiar to you?
 

Cheer up, you are not alone! 

This totally used to be my story; two parents working demanding jobs, two young children requiring dedicated attention. Add the self-inflicted pressure to be the perfect parent and voilà: the perfect recipe for chronic mum-guilt. Something had to change. Of course I wanted to eat family dinners together, but realistically I didn't have the time (nor mental capacity) to organise it 7 nights a week. And guess what? As soon as I changed my approach, we went from virtually 0 sit-down family dinners, to at least 5 weekly dinners. And often we even hit that magic number 7, without breaking a sweat.

Naturally, if I can do it, you can do it too!
So check this out: 5 strategies that allow you to build a routine of regular family dinners in no time.

5 simple strategies for regular family dinners 

1. Ask and accept help

This is by far my best piece of advice to you. And the most difficult one to take, I know. But believe me, once you start asking and accepting help, your stress-levels drop drastically.

  • Think about the grandparents who would welcome a little extra time with you: ask them to organise one weekly meal
  • Arrange a Dinner Swap with the neighbours: Today we eat at ours, tomorrow at yours.
  • Answer YES when people ask: "I'm going to the shops, can I get you anything?"
  • And of course get the kids involved wherever possible: have them set the table, help with the cooking, put their plates in the dishwasher or do the dishes.

Whatever you do, don't be too shy to ask. That has always been my mistake. I'm still working on it, but truly, a small favour from others can make a massive difference to you.

2. Pick one day a week that you dedicate to your regular family dinner

Start by allocating just one evening. You're going to make this a regular event, so pick a day that's convenient for you. Also, it doesn’t have to be hours either, the average family dinner lasts 20 minutes only.

I started with the Saturday, so I have more time to pick the recipe, do the groceries and cook the meal. Also, kids are off on Saturdays, so they're around to help out (added bonus!).

Remember, it has to be practical and work for your family, any day will do!

3. Start batch cooking and freeze your family meals

In case you're not familiar with this concept, it means you cook larger portions of food, so you can store the excess in batches for later use (either in the fridge or freezer).

The big win here is timing. Batch cooking allows you to divert cooking times from your hectic schedule and to a more relaxed hour. For example the weekend when you're not pressed for time, or late in the evening when the kids are asleep and you're watching your favourite show with a well-deserved glass of wine.

So how does it work? Simply double or triple your ingredients, store it in airtight containers and freeze them. Then, on those busy days when your stress-levels are through the roof, just defrost and heat a batch and sit down for your healthy family dinner.

Truth be told, I'm not using this strategy enough. I only batch cook my bolognaise sauce and beef stew. And while they've absolutely saved my sanity on more than one occasion, I'm eager to explore batch cooking a little more. Watch this space!

4. Choose easy family meals you can whip up in seconds

Healthy and delicious meals don't necessary have to take a lot of time. I'm a big fan of recipes that are quick and simple to make and that look and taste fantastic. Also, the air fryer is my new best friend.

Try one of these quick and easy family meals:

5. Plan your weekly meals shop in bulk

When talking to other parents, I noticed you mostly struggle with deciding what to cook for dinner.

And let's be honest, when you're rushing around the supermarket after a tiring day, you simply aren't your most inspirational self. Chances are you quickly grab the faithful frozen pizza or you end up buying the same things as last week. 

So, this 5th strategy is your tool for a more varied, more nutritious and more affordable family dinner: Meal planning.

Meal planning is more powerful than you can imagine:

  • It allows you to shop in bulk, hence saving time and money.
  • It takes away the mental pressure of deciding what to cook tonight.
    Believe me, this is incredibly liberating! Try it and see for yourself, I promise you'll be positively surprised.
  • Last but not least, it reduces food waste, since you only buy the specific ingredients you need.
    I used to stock up on random ingredients, because I wanted to be flexible with my evening meals. But in reality I often had to bin unused items since they had gone mouldy.

So what are you waiting for?
Start meal planning and use that freed up time and mental space to organise your sit-down family dinner.

Ready for regular family dinners?
There you have it.
5 easy-to-implement strategies that get you to regular family dinners in no time.

Imagine: you come home from work and grab your planned meal from the fridge. The kids are setting the table, while you cook up a healthy meal in minutes. You sit down at the table feeling relaxed. You look around the table: happy faces, good conversation and delicious food.

All you have to do, is pick one or two strategies that fit your family and get started.

And stick with it, because it gets better with practice; a study on family eating patterns showed that the more often a family eats together, the better the experience is likely to be, the healthier the food and the more rewarding the talk.

And before you know it, you'll be well on your way to 5 weekly family dinners!

Do you know another busy parent who would enjoy this post? Share it!

 

5 Simple Strategies for Regular Family Dinners

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