Growing up in the eighties and nineties, I remember family dinner being something that you were not allowed to miss or be late for.
Now, I know that may not have been everyone’s experience growing up, but I knew that when I became a parent that family meal time was something that really was important to me as a mom.
I knew our lives were going to be busy, but I wanted to really hold onto this idea that meals are a time for the family to get together to connect and have conversation, but try to raise a family with two working parents and two little ones. And those well-laid plans often fell short in our own home. So I really had to reframe what it meant to have a family meal in our home, and in case you find yourself in a similar position with your own family, I thought it would be helpful to break down the five ways I’ve started to reframe family meal time in our home.
Because at the end of the day, you’re probably not at a place where you can set the whole family down at 6:00 PM sharp, make sure that you have a full homemade meal ready to go for everyone and sit and have conversation together.
I’m here to share my top 5 tips for making family meals easier. We’re not talking about hacks here. This post is about small, simple changes that will shift how you approach mealtime to make it less stressful + more enjoyable.
Here’s what you can expect to learn…
So what are you waiting for? Either dive into the post below or just hit ‘play’ to listen in!
I want us to talk about what we can do to make sure that family meals do happen if that’s something that you value, but also shift the way we’re thinking about what is necessary in order to make that happen. The very first thing I want you to start to reconsider is that dinner has to be your family mealtime.
That doesn’t work for some families. I know my kids eat far earlier than my husband and I are ever ready to eat, and when my husband was commuting every day for work, he wasn’t even home to have that as an option for our family. So maybe consider, are family meals something that needs to happen at dinner time for your family?
If so, are weekends better? Or maybe you play around with having your family meal time be breakfast. Even a snack is a good time for a family meal. If it’s togetherness that you value, you don’t have to worry about what is being served to everyone. What I want you to focus on is how you’re spending that time together and how you’re prioritizing it in your day.
The second thing I want you to remember is that it doesn’t have to be a long drawn out experience. Most kids don’t have the attention span to sit through a long family meal and honestly, your family probably doesn’t have the time to sit down for 30 to 60 minutes every single day.
Something I found that works really well is keeping my expectations to 5 to 10 minutes for when the kids are younger.
And it doesn’t always have to be that that time is spent having conversation. Some kids don’t really like to chat when they’re trying to eat, and some kids just wanna get up from the table and go. Something that we’ve started to do in our home is to think about different ways of presenting the food to the kids. So sometimes it is a plate of food.
Other times I’ll do like a kid’s charcuterie board where it’s really a whole meal deconstructed. So if I’m Offering chicken that night, I might cut it up or shred it and that goes on a cutting board along with the veggies and the fruit and a carbohydrate and some healthy fats, and I just create that balanced plate in a larger format that works really well.
Sometimes we bring in games, whether it’s a card game or a board game, which I know isn’t what you would typically do during a big family meal, but when you have a kiddo who just doesn’t have the focus to sit down and eat a meal in a traditional sense, it works really well to integrate what they need into our approach to our family meal time.
Hopefully that helps you kind of reframe what that time together could look like. We end up having a great time when we play games together to help jokes or have conversation starters on hand to help make that time feel like it’s something that’s more relaxed and enjoyable to the whole family. Something else that really helped me to reframe my concept of what it looked like to have a family meal was to understand that it doesn’t have to be that we’re all sitting down together at the same time to eat.
It was really that what I value is that our family is spending time together. So just because my kids might be ready to eat dinner at 6:00 PM and my husband and I are not, it doesn’t mean that our family meal can’t be dinner. It just looks a little bit different.
We may not all be eating, but it’s that intentionality of coming together around the table, having conversation, enjoying one another’s company that at the end of the day is really what I was valuing. So once I started to kind of reframe that for myself, it made it a lot easier to see that the family meal isn’t necessarily about the food, it’s about the togetherness.
So now that we have reframed our expectations of what the family meal time is looking like, let’s talk about what it takes on the front end to help make that as easy as possible. The first thing I want you to do is be really intentional when you’re planning your meals. Whether you plan for the next day or two in advance or you plan a week at a time, I want you to really think about what you have on your calendar that day.
Are you going to have time to meal prep in the afternoon? Are you going to have time after work to cook a full meal for your family? Is it a better day to order out? Is it a day where the kids have sandwiches for dinner and you’re eating leftovers? You don’t have to have a fresh meal each and every night. For far too long, I told myself that our family needed a fresh home cooked meal every night and it just wasn’t sustainable.
So once I shifted my approach to really planning my meals around what our family’s life looked like that day, it became so much easier to make sure that dinner time wasn’t something that was stressing me out. It was something that was far easier.
Tip number four, let’s make sure that when you’re planning those meals, that you’re keeping them basic. Something I do to make sure That everyone in the family is going to at least eat something at that meal is to pick something that I know is favorable or preferred. It doesn’t have to be the main entree. It could be a side dish that’s preferred, but that way at least I know that when I’m putting food in front of everyone and they wrinkle their noses cuz they don’t want it.
I can at least direct their attention to something that I know that they do enjoy. We absolutely do not have the capacity to make everyone their own custom meals by planning ahead and thinking through, All right, well what’s something I can offer that I know you know the kids will really enjoy that really helps make it less important that everything on the plate is something that they love.
Just give them that one thing and you can always remind yourself, it’s okay if they don’t eat at one meal. There’s going to be a snack or another meal just a few hours away. They will make up for it the next time they eat. Once I pick that familiar or preferred food, I just make sure that the plate is bounced. Pick a protein, pick a fruit or a veggie.
Make sure that there’s a good healthy carb on the plate and some healthy fats. This helps make sure that the kids are offered a balanced variety of foods and that everyone is going to hopefully stay pretty sustained until the next snack or meal time. While also making sure that I’m not trying to plan out a full elaborate meal that’s going to take me a long time to prepare.
Lastly, I want you to remember your family roles. I think as parents, it’s very easy to feel like we are responsible for our children loving what they eat, but at the end of the day, that’s not our job. Our job is to make sure that we are offering healthy, nutritious, balanced plates to our kids.
That’s going to look different in every family based on what you value. That includes what your nutritional needs are and what your budget is. But once you’ve decided what is right for your family, your job is to offer that to your children. It is your child’s job to decide whether they like how it tastes or it doesn’t. It’s okay if your child decides that they don’t like the way certain food tastes. I promise you, you’re going to offer them something different the next time it’s time to eat.
They will make up for it.
So go ahead and respect that they know what feels or tastes good to them and know that you’ve done your job in offering the foods to your child that are in alignment with your family’s values.
So let’s recap these five tips for making family meals easy:
I think that when you put these five ideas together, you’ll find that meal time is a lot less stressful because your expectations are far more realistic. I’ve also put together for you a meal-rotation guide. This includes a training to help make it easier when it comes to meal planning and prep. This is something that I struggled with for years.
I tried to do too much, and once I learned how to create a menu that I could rotate throughout the season. This made it so much easier. If you’d like to get this free guide, you’ll find the form linked right below.
So go ahead and fill that out and it’ll land in your inbox right away. You’ll get access to a mini training that walks you through my process. As well as seasonal menus that help you make it easy to plan meals that offer fresh in-season produce. Which means you’ll feel good about what you’re putting in front of your kids. And you won’t have to put too much time and effort to figure out exactly what that should be.
Get started today + you’ll find that form linked right below. And I’ll see you next week so that we can keep working on making mom life a whole lot less complicated by, for now.
Let’s also remember that meals go beyond the family experience. There’s a lot going on for you + your mental capacity to plan ahead, do the shopping + get food on the table before your family is ever able to gather together.
Be sure to check out this post on how to stop agonizing over dinner. And I love this oldie, but a goodie where I share 15 Ways to Streamline Meals.
And remember—I love hearing from you! So if you have other ideas for what you’d like to see on the blog, be sure to comment below!
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Mom life is complex,
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