by Jill Savage
As a mother, there are many days that I long would love to hang a sign that says “Kitchen closed”. Between meals and snacks, the focus on food can be overwhelming. When I find myself frustrated with the amount of time I spend in the kitchen, however, I realize that I need to adjust my perspective.
Family identity is increased when families eat meals together. The conversations around the table build bonds that last a lifetime. Families that eat together know what’s happening in each other’s life. They are connected, concerned, and conscious of the other members of the family.
According to a recent article I read, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has research to support that teens who ate dinner five to seven times a week with their families were 45% less likely to try alcohol, 24% less apt to smoke marijuana and 67% more likely to get A’s compared with kids who never or rarely dined with their families. This illustrates that the benefits of the family meal are far-reaching and all-encompassing in a child’s life.
How can you get a meal on the table, when you feel overwhelmed with the prospect of making it happen? Here are some practical tips to help you succeed in making a meal you can share together:
- Create a monthly meal plan with your family’s favorite meals. This strategy of “advance decision making” helps eliminate the “what should I make for dinner” question each night. A meal plan also streamlines your shopping list when you head to the grocery store.
- Use your crock-pot whenever possible. This helps you prepare your meals during less hectic times of the day. It also fills the house with wonderful smells that communicate that all is well, mom is in charge, and dinner is being prepared!
- Have a stash of freezer meals from which to choose. You might try “once-a-month cooking” where you cook for a day to eat for a month! There are hundreds of resources out there to show you how to successfully cook once-a-month. Type “once-a- month cooking” into your internet search engine and you’ll find all the resources you need.
- Make double or prepare partially. When I make meatloaf for our family, I make one meatloaf for our evening meal and two for the freezer. I do the same with our family’s favorite casseroles. You can also do partial preparation to simplify the meal prep later. For instance, each month I buy hamburger in bulk. When I get home I divide it and use half for meatloaf and meatballs that I will prepare and freeze (uncooked). The other half of the hamburger I brown with a little bit of onion, salt, and pepper. Of the browned hamburger, I freeze half in freezer bags for dishes like chili, sloppy joes, or beef stroganoff. I then season the remaining browned meat with taco seasoning and place it in freezer bags for our favorite Mexican meals. When I decide to have tacos for dinner, I simply pull the bag of seasoned meat out of the freezer and microwave it to serving temperature. This minimizes clean-up and cuts close to 30 minutes off my prep time!
- Make meal prep and setting the table a family event. The family meal is more likely to happen if the responsibility is shared by all who will eat. Whether you have a schedule for who helps with dinner or sets the table, or you determine that 15 minutes before a meal everyone works together to make it happen, make sure you share the ownership of the family meal.
- Make clean-up a family event. If I clean up alone after a meal, it usually takes about 30 minutes. If we all work together, the task is finished within an average of 10 minutes. This provides opportunity for the family to work together each evening.
Mealtimes have nutritional purposes, however they serve a larger purpose of building community within a family. When the family sits down together to share a meal, it is as if they pull off the highway of life, find a parking spot, and enjoy relational refreshment.
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