Sometimes it’s daunting to get the whole family sitting down for dinner at the same time.  Solomon and Celia were squirmier, pickier eaters back in their toddler days, and their appetites kicked in well before our usual dinnertime of 7:00 (when Andrew could join us). Today we have different hurdles: they often don’t get home from sports practices until 7:30 or 8, and sometimes they have hours of homework to complete before bed.

This means I often spend my evening hours driving to activities (although we carpool as much as possible to save time and reduce traffic and pollution).  I’ve found that I needed to devise a cooking strategy that gets dinner on the table even if I’m not home from 5:30 to 7:30. (Isn’t there an “app” for that?)

Nevertheless, we are determined to sit down to dinner together nearly every night. It is often the only stress-free time the four of us can share during the busy weekdays, and I can be certain the family is eating a healthy home-cooked meal.

Here are a few strategies we have developed to still eat dinner together despite these common challenges:

Challenge: Kids get too hungry before dinnertime.
Solutions: 1) Put out cut fruits and vegetables to placate hunger; 2) If you’ve made dinner earlier, let the kids snack on part of that.

Challenge: Kids need to eat early so they have energy for late activities.
Solution: Have kids eat a healthy and hearty snack before late practices (or let them snack on dinner if you’ve already made it). Even if they don’t eat much at dinnertime, we are still sharing that family time.

Challenge: Family cook is also family chauffeur.
Solutions: 1) Cook and/or prep (and certainly plan and shop!) ahead; 2) Double recipes and stock the freezer; 3) Incorporate the slow cooker into weekly routine.

Challenge: Kids need attention during prime dinner prep time.
Solutions: 1) Recruit the kids as sous chefs to help you make dinner; 2) Have a drawer of fun cooking tools and stickers, etc. to pull out while you cook (have a homework station near the kitchen for older kids); 3) Cook an extra meal or two on the weekends to serve during the week.

Challenge: One parent simply cannot get home in time for dinner.
Solutions: Make Sunday nights family dinner night and/or make breakfast your family meal.

In the next month, some organizations and bloggers will be shining a spotlight on the importance of families eating together. Here are a few sites where you can learn more and join in the family dinner movement:

9/26: National Family Day, a day to eat dinner with your family, from The National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

9/26 – 10/24 Blog For Family Dinner month

10/24: Food Day by The Center for Science in the Public Interest

This quick recipe can easily be doubled for bigger families. If you have a child in the house who is knows their way around the kitchen, they can make this soup for the whole family.
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How do you make sure your family sits down for meals together? Please share your comments below.

Recipe: 20-Minute Tortellini Soup with Spinach and Tomatoes

  • Prep Time: 10 min(s)
  • Cook Time: 10 min(s)
  • Total Time: 20 min(s)
  • Servings: 5

A quick and healthy tortellini soup recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
  • 32 oz. reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 9 oz. whole wheat or regular cheese tortellini (sold refrigerated)
  • 15 oz. no-salt added diced tomatoes, with their liquid
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 3 cups baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, or to taste

Instructions

  1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the garlic for one minute, then stir in the broth. Bring it to a boil, and then add the tortellini, tomatoes, pepper, basil and oregano.
  2. Reduce the heat to keep it at a low boil for 7 minutes. Add the spinach. Simmer it for 2 more minutes, then remove it from the heat and serve it immediately, topped with Parmesan cheese.

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  • http://savorysweetlife.com alice

    Fantastic and practical tips, Aviva! Thank you!

  • http://www.mealsmatter.org/blog Meals Matter

    We are spotlighting family meals this month too with our Eat Better, Eat Together Pledge. Families pledge on Facebook, then receive tips, advice and the chance to win free groceries!

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  • momtocahx3

    Once a week (ok more than once on extremely busy week days) we have taco night. The kids love making their own tacos. This is only meal that kids can act silly at table. Jokes and funny stories are told by everyone it a great to relieve stress for both kids and parents. Another thing we do is Sunday is new recipe dinner night. The kids pick out a recipe and we try it. Sometimes it is hit and sometimes we end up tossing it and ordering pizza. But the kids love it and look forward to it.

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