11 Ways to Make Weeknight Dinners Easier
by Callie Collins
Jul 29, 2022
Eating dinner as a family is a time-honored tradition our society recognizes as positive in theory but sometimes difficult to implement in practice. What families actually do spans the spectrum: some gather around the table every evening, others feed everyone on-the-go between sports practices, work commitments and endless obligations.

While routines vary, the science behind family dinners is clear: “Regular family dinners are associated with lower rates of depression, and anxiety, and substance abuse, and eating disorders, and tobacco use, and early teenage pregnancy, and higher rates of resilience and higher self esteem,” according to a Harvard report based from Massachusetts General Hospital’s Family Dinner Project study. Find out more at https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/.

Knowing dinner together is good for families, here are 11 ways to make it easier:

1. Decide when dinner is feasible:

Compare schedules and aim to eat dinner together at least three times each week. Decide when it works for everyone, announce your plan and stick to it. If dinner together is only possible on the weekends or certain weeknight evenings, that counts.

2. Food doesn’t have to be homemade:

While homemade foods tend to be lower in fat, calories and sodium, positive psychosocial experiences happen when everyone is present, no matter where the food comes from at your table. Enjoy a meal from a restaurant and bring it home for less distraction.

3. Keep it simple:

Skill isn’t always required to make a memorable family meal. See our website for easy recipes, check in with friends for what’s working at their house and don’t be afraid to pick up a frozen lasagna, steam some microwavable veggies and use paper plates.

4. Try a snack alternative or family breakfast:

If your family isn’t into dinner, try a coffee hour or charcuterie board snack instead. When schedules are impossible, try for a family breakfast instead to start your day off together instead of ending it in the dining room.

5. Make friends with your slow cooker:

Break out your Crock-Pot, Instapot or other helpful kitchen appliance. Set it and forget it in the morning with a slow cooker or leave items prepared for quick cooking in your Instapot.

6. Prepare ingredients in advance:

Chopping ingredients can seem tedious. Find out what works for you, which may include buying pre-chopped produce, dicing them all at once to freeze or using a food processor. If you’re cooking one evening and can start the next night’s meal by doubling the meat to store and use or doubling the recipe to freeze half, you’ve already saved yourself additional time and effort to make another evening meal easier.

7. Enlist family members’ help:

From setting the table to lending a helping hand in the kitchen before or after the meal, others can help. This will help every family member feel like a part of the team. Teaching basic cooking skills and cleanup lets everyone feel involved and instills habits that can last a lifetime.

8. Consider a meal kit or other service:

Boxed deliveries with pre-portioned ingredients can be a tremendous help, with all the ingredients delivered to your doorstep. HelloFresh and Blue Apron have a variety of options, while Hungryroot and Purple Carrot offer vegan selections. You may be more inclined to cook if everything’s already on-hand, no shopping needed.

9. Choose tableware you like:

Add to the experience with decor you want to use. Allowing children to help choose new dishes, a festive tablecloth or just cheerful paper plates with a pattern they like increases the likelihood of everyone showing up in a shared space to enjoy the meal and its atmosphere.

10. Enjoy everyone’s company:

Keep conversation light. Coming together around the table will feel easier when no one dreads what might come up. Although heavier topics may surface, try to put those on the back burner to make the most of what you’ve prepared: a meal with everyone. Turn everyone’s phones and tablets off, pass a basket to collect them and move it to another room.

11. Plan for dessert:

Everyone likes dessert. Find sugar-free alternatives, include fruit or enjoy ice cream on a walk together after dinner. No matter how you have dinner, love your mealtime. Time together is the real treat.

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