It is soooo tempting to serve two dinners on weeknights when you’ve got an older baby, toddler or preschooler at home. Young kids need to eat early, dinners with them can be hectic, and the foods they prefer may not be what you would consider dinner-worthy. Plus, the idea of having a quiet dinner with your partner once the kids are asleep sounds heavenly.
It does sounds great, but I’ve made it my goal, whenever humanly possible, to eat our dinners as a family. Even before my daughter was eating solids, we tried to “include” her in our meals by having her near us if she was awake, practising sitting in her high chair once she was able to support her head.
Easy enough while on maternity leave, right? Well, while being a working mom has made dinners as a family pretty difficult, I still think it is totally worth it.
Why does this mean so much to me? Years and years of research into families that do well, stay close and are more likely to yield awesome, resilient kids and teens have shown successful families tend to eat meals together most days of the week. For us, dinner is a time to reconnect, even if we have to “ask” my daughter questions and come up with the answers for her! Establishing the family meal when your kids are little squirts will make it much easier to continue when they are teenagers. Teens who regularly eat meals with their family are more likely to get good grades in school, and are less likely to use alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.
Here’s what children learn when meals are eaten as a family:
- “I am included, I belong and therefore I am important.”
- “I do not dictate the meal. Dinner is what is served and I can choose to eat or not eat.” Your child will see your favourite meals as normal, and this approach often means less picky eating. So no need to be a short-order cook constantly making “toddler-friendly” meals.
- “I am in charge of my own appetite.” At the dinner table, your attention is more likely to be focused on your family and eating your own dinner and less likely to be focused on whether your older baby or young child is eating, what they are eating and how much they are eating. And that is a good thing. When conversations at meals are more about sharing and caring and less about what your child is eating, your child learns they are in charge of their own appetite.
It’s not impossible! If this is a big change for your family, take it one step at a time, starting with actually sitting down and eating together as a family. Here are some tips that have helped me make it work with my family:
- Embrace slow cookers! A little bit of prep the night before means you have a hot meal ready to eat as soon as you walk in the door.
- Have leftovers! Double your slow cooker recipe or make extra portions for your weekend meals.
- Have a few quick-to-make dinners a week, such as pasta and salad, stir-fry, wraps, make-your-own pizzas (we like to use English muffins or tortilla wraps for the crust).
- Pre-made frozen meals, while not always as healthy as home-cooked, can be a time-saver for busy families.
- Once a week, plan your meals and let this plan dictate your shopping list. No more last-minute scrambling. A friend of mine made a rotating schedule, for example Monday nights are pasta night in her house. She would vary the type of pasta, toppings and sauce to keep it different every week, and it reduced the amount of time she had to spend coming up with menus.
- Involve the kids as much as possible! Have older children and teens be in charge of meals at least one day a week.
- If eating together at dinner really cannot work, try having breakfasts together.
Do you have any other tips to make weeknight dinners with the family easier? Please share, there are a number of ways you can connect with us: