Studies have shown that kids who share family dinners three or more times per week are more likely to eat healthy food, perform better academically, and have better relationships with their parents.
So why is it that parents spend hours, weeks, months researching the best schools and summer camps, finding the best Christmas presents and birthday gifts, scoping out the best flat-screen TVs… but we never feel there is enough time to cook a healthy dinner and sit down to eat it?
5 strategies for healthy family dinners
Our calendars are filled with work meetings, school activities, and family commitments. We fit in the little things like errands, laundry, and soccer practice. If we are lucky, a little social media, a TV show and a workout fit in the nooks and crannies.
Food is something we know needs to happen, and we have a hunch that healthy choices will make us feel our best. But very often we actually don’t have the time in our day to make it happen.
Here are five tools to help you fit healthy eating into your busy days.
1. Meal plan in advance.
When you open the fridge at 6pm and don’t know what you will make, you will more likely make something less healthy, get stressed out while cooking, and have a child who wants something else.
Instead, sit down on a Friday and think through the whole week ahead, so you always know what’s for dinner before the day starts. If that feels like too big of a step, simply write what’s for dinner each morning on a sticky note.
>> Make it easy: Printable meal planning pages
2. Simplify your schedule.
It is really hard to make space for healthy eating if your life is one long string of events — work, soccer, piano, scouts.
Think about your life today: What do you use more frequently — food or a soccer ball? Analyze your schedule, and let go of something that is not really serving you or your kids. The goal is to gain a few hours in the week when you can happily be at home as a family enjoying time together in the kitchen.
3. Make time for all the parts.
Cooking meals from scratch does take time, and this is an important lesson to teach our kids. Make sure grocery shopping, cooking and sitting to eat have time in your calendar, just like a doctor appointment or meeting with a colleague. See what happens when these things go in your calendar first.
We often start with all the little details that make up our work and parenting life, but forget to make time for the things that really matter. If food matters to you, it needs time.
4. Batch to make cooking more efficient.
Think about how many times a week you just “run” to the store. When you have your meal plan, it makes it really easy to shop once or maybe twice a week. When you schedule it in, you can make it happen at a time that is convenient, when you are not hungry and maybe someone else is with the kids. Wash and chop what you can right when you get home.
Set aside a few hours once a week to do some of the heavy lifting — make a dish or two, roast some veggies, wash and chop some lettuce, make a grain, like rice or quinoa.
>> Find out more: A beginner’s guide to once a month cooking (OAMC)
5. Make health a family value.
Cooking can often feel like one more to-do on a very long list. If we can shift cooking from our to-do list to an important practice that supports our family values, it feels like a much more meaningful task.
As you cook, you can say to yourself, “I am preparing a dinner that will lead to less sick days,” which feels so much better than, “I have to make dinner, then help with homework, then deal with bedtime.”
If family dinner can have such a big impact on our kids’ futures, why wouldn’t we make the time to make it happen? Try making time in your calendar this week, and see how that changes your dinnertime experience.