From the time our three kids could pull up a highchair at the table, connecting over dinner has been a crucial part of our busy lives. It’s a daily ritual we all treasure where we can relax, be ourselves and encourage one another to go fight the battles of the real world. But as a working mother with three children faced with juggling busy sports schedules, carpools and laundry, finding the time to prepare a meal the whole family will enjoy is a daunting task. Fortunately, over years of trial and error, I’ve learned a few simple ways to keep it manageable so I can focus on the main things. Otherwise, excuses and fast food might steal this precious bonding time with my kids
1. Keep Things Consistent
The benefits of family dinners have been touted for years—consistent family meals protect kids from engaging in risky behaviors and may even promote better grades in school. But according to “The Journal of Adolescent Health,” the more frequent these dinners, the better the adolescents fare emotionally. It would seem that the ritual practice of a regular sit down time at dinner is the key. In our home, it’s just what we do. We have made a commitment and work hard to balance different schedules. What this translates to in real life, with kids ranging from teenagers to preschoolers, is that we often eat later than I would like for digestive purposes, but a meal at 7 p.m. after football practice, ballet and daddy arriving home in a rush is still a meal together. I often feed my youngest earlier if she’s hungry so she can still be a part of the conversation. She always manages to eat a few more bites when everyone else is digging in and then I put her down to bed directly after.
2. Give Everyone A Job
Dinner would never get on the table if it was all up to me. Sure, I do the shopping and the prepping and even the cooking, but the rest I dole out to the kids and Dad. One child is in charge of setting the table, another is in charge of clearing and the dishes are divvied up between the kids and Daddy. When we all have a job and play a part in the meal, we take more ownership of making it happen. My teenage daughter often accompanies me shopping now so that she can have input in recipes and pick new things to try out. Her love of vegetables and whole grains doesn’t always illicit the best response from the boys, but I appreciate her focus on healthy eating. Another trick I use is the crock pot. For busy days when I walk in the door past dusk, the smell of a taco meat simmering or chili bubbling is a relief to both Mom and the kids.
3. Start With A Prayer
Before our meal begins, we ask the kids if anyone has any special prayer requests. Then one of us volunteers and prays for the meal, the family and any pressing needs. Even my little one takes on the prayer mantle with gusto and hearing her sweet little voice calling out to God is a priceless treat. Plus, it reminds each of us of the important role that faith plays in our lives.
4. Engage Them In Conversation
Every night, our family plays the same game in which each person shares the best part of their day. We used to share both the best and worst parts, but found that focusing too much on the bad turned dinner into a complain game. What we’ve found is that if one of the kids had a tough day, it will come pouring out when they share the best part because they will struggle more than usual on finding the positive. This game has brought our family invaluable times of bonding; we laugh, sympathize and even cry together on a daily basis. Discerning the hurt and celebrating the small moments tie our lives together and connect us as a family.
Family dinner a brief amount of time where we turn off all media and focus on the present and the gift of simply being together. Sharing a meal is sharing our lives and it’s something I never want to take for granted.
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