How tonight’s dinner can change your life:

Here is a question:  Do You Eat With Your Children?

Many people would say yes, and they are telling the truth: A pop-tart on the way to school, a Lunchable between piano and ball practice, a bowl of popcorn in front of a sitcom. However, if the question were just slightly different:  “Do you eat meals with your family?” Then the resulting answers would be quite a bit different. That’s because so many people may eat with someone, but not many people will eat with their family–at least not on a regular basis. Our lives have become too busy, too hectic; and the availability of fast food, and microwaveable food makes it that much harder to enjoy that good, old fashioned, home-cooked meal with our loved ones. We end up reserving the pleasure for a few, special times of the year.

There is no doubt that eating together is a part of our humanity. For some reason, food has always been the focal point of gatherings. It is amazing how Aunt Gertrude’s famous pumpkin pie can make you happy–even when you only think about it! Food is the weave that keeps the fabric of our lives connected and strong. We can’t imagine a baseball tournament without the pizza party, a Fourth of July without the barbeque, or a friendly card game without the snacks. The feelings and emotions these memories and traditions foster can be the same ones we indulge our children with every day of the week. Every day can be the warm and welcoming family affair that we often only enjoy a few remote times per year.

There have been a multitude of studies on this subject. What researchers are finding out is that families that eat a meal together, at least a few times a week, are healthier emotionally. Emotionally! Many people may not expect that. But it’s true: families that eat together, have children that do better in school, are less depressed, and engage in less destructive behaviors. Also, the children themselves feel more secure–they look forward to the structure of knowing everyone will be together at least once a day. During a family meal together, relationship and open communication is fostered and grown. Healthy values, manners, and memories are created. Kinship is established.

Yet, the attack on family time, and especially family meals, is undeniable. How can we as parents combat this? It takes priority. Priority to make something sacred and unmovable. In our ever-shifting lives and careers, it is worthwhile to make something permanent. And what better than our family time? Dinner together doesn’t have to be long and dramatic–even though the results are. A simple meal from the crock-pot and a quick side salad. Some interesting news from the day. A half hour. This is a recipe for the quality dinner time that our children, and we as parents, need to keep connected. You can even let your children help you plan the meals, to allow them to see that family meals are important as well. Try to establish this priority in your own home life. Even if you start with just once a week–it is worth your time.

So grab a few of your favorite recipes, and plan to sit down this week and enjoy them–as a family! For starters try out Club Burrito for a do-it-yourself lunch or dinner; or make our Cranberry Chicken in your slow cooker for a dinner that is ready for you when you get home. Surprise your kids with Cannoli for Kids, they will love scooping it into the cones themselves, older kids can help with the entire recipe.

Kathy McHenry, founder and CEO of www.MyOnlineMeals.com and owner of www.AfterSchoolSnacks.com, has helped thousands put a real dinner on the table.  Go to www.MyOnlineMeals.com to receive a free weekly recipes and shopping list; and to be added to her monthly newsletter.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for these links- I’m always running out of dinner ideas and my kids are so picky!

    Erica, NY

    • Picky eaters are tough. Have you tried letting them choose a meal or two each week. Give them age appropriate responsibilities in the preparation of your meals. That will sometimes give more incentive to try new things. Also, remember kids don’t usually like their food to touch, so if you’re preparing a lot of hot-dish type meals you won’t get much response.

  2. Family dinners are really tough- the kids get home at 4:30, so I like to have dinner ready then. DH gets home at 6:00, so if I wait for him, the kids are starving- or they’ve stuffed themselves with snacks and don’t want much dinner. This is a daily dilemna on Mondays-Fridays. Weekends are generally easier. Any advice?

    • Hi B.G.

      I feel your pain. I have a 4 year old who is hungry for dinner at 3:30 while the rest of the family wouldn’t need to eat until about 7. The first thing that comes to mind is slow cooker recipes. The kids can eat early while DH gets a hot meal at 6. I’m not a big fan of making two dinners, but it doesn’t hurt to do it on occasion. Feed the kids something like the club burrito listed above, then make something special for you and the hubby. You could even splurge a little.

  3. Hi Ellen,
    Great links and ideas! Our kids are 6,9 and 11… so as you can imagine our daily schedule is quite hectic. “Together” dinner time is tough to make happen, but it is SO worth it. It’s amazing how much we learn about our kids as we sit at dinner and just talk.
    Take care,
    Tim, WI

  4. suzy pomper says:

    If any one needs some inspiration….My husband & I have 8, yes 8 children. right now they range from 3 to 21. You can imagine the logistics of arranging a family dinner with all the after-school activities, kids getting home at different times, a husband who schedule varies greatly from night to night, bedtimes ranging from 8 pm to no bedtime at all etc. Whatever is going on in your family know that family dinner is something you can do. If I can do it, so can you!! We have family dinner night not one, not two, not three but 7 nights a week! I was raised that way, and anything less would be to cheat my family. It isn’t always easy, and sometimes one or another child is missing from the table. But as a rule we do eat together 7 nights a week. So if it is important to you (and it really should be!!) you can do it!!!

  5. Suzy- you are an inspiration!

    Kathy, thank you for your words of wisdom.

    I think my slow-cooker is one of my most underused yet valuable appliances. It’s a great idea for days when I know that I’ll be out in the afternoon and unable to prepare a fresh dinner.

    Ellen

  6. Hi. I love your ideas and would love to go back to the times that we had dinner together as a family. But, how can you manage homeschooling, errands, a husband that comes late from work, and 4 kids with different daily activities? Not to mention that kids meals are not the same as Daddy’s?

  7. I also homeschool 4 boys who play basketball and baseball — all different teams. Dad coaches a team and plays basketball and baseball also! The crockpot is a life saver! I wish I remember where, but I found recipes for the crock pot that you prepare everything ahead of time by dumping it all in a freezer bag. Take it out and dump in the crock pot frozen and its ready for dinner. If that isn’t available, I do try to get a crockpot meal or casserole ready before the kids are up. Family time at the table is so important even though we spend all day together homeschooling.

  8. I agree that having a family meal is vital as well as very difficult to impossible to have everyday. I became a once a month cooker a few years ago when I was losing my marbles with four children at the time 8 and under. Now I have an almost 12, 10, 7 and 3 year old and all three are scheduled in activities to some extent which hit right around 6:00 (aka dinner time). I had been serving very healthy snacks when my school age children (3 “starving” sons) that would give them a protein/brain boost to get their homework done before dinner and sports. What I found was that they were all SOOOOO hungry right after school that they wouldn’t eat their dinner because they’d fill up on carrots, cucumbers, apples, and popcorn. I went back to the drawing board and decided, while their dad would not be home for a family meal, at least I was and we now sit down to between 3:30-4. We share our good news, our struggles, and anything else at the dinner table. I sometimes feel like a farmer eating so early! But it works. Then they get through their homework and their practice or game. Since it is our routine, I don’t feel as though I am scrambling out of the norm to have an early dinner and run, run, run. They have a hearty yogurt smoothie or a bagel and cream cheese or peanut butter before bed. Dad doesn’t usually eat until 8 anyhow since he works full time and coaches or hits the YMCA after work. I am a stickler for that family dinner. And on the weekends we have 3 dinners as a family.

  9. Sometimes, different schedules are logistically impossible to reconcile with a regular family dinner.

    What I sometimes do is this:

    Serve the kids dinner around 5:30pm (so that they don’t ask for snacks as we wait for my husband to arrive- anywhere from 6pm-8pm).

    Then, when I serve dinner to my husband later in the evening, I serve a healthy-yet-sweet snack to the kids simultaneously, so that we are all eating together. Watermelon, cantaloupe, cooked fruit cocktail, even homemade chocolate pudding work well for us.

    I hope this is helpful:)

    Ellen

  10. With today’s technology many ovens have a “start time” and “cook time” feature. I use this much more often than a crockpot. I make multiples when I cook (lasagna, baked ziti, quiche, scalloped potatoes, etc.) freeze the extras and then when I want to serve it for supper, just put it in the oven in the morning where it can start to defrost, set the cook time and temperature and supper is ready right on time.
    PS my oven is nearly 10 years old and has these features so yours may too, but you may not know it or be comfortable with it. It’s worth finding out!

  11. Amazing article……! i agree with you Ellen……! i have tried this out it really works…..Dinner time together is a happy ending with a rejuvenating beginning!!!