Most parents have heard Ronald Reagan’s quote, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” We’ve read articles about our responsibility to set a fantastic atmosphere and have perfect family meals.
But how often does chaos break loose instead? We forget to take meat out of the freezer. The little ones’ behavior during the “witching hour” of dinner prep can make a fifteen-minute meal take three hours! The meal we were so excited to try draws complaints and eye rolls from our lovely minions. Is this just me?
Why do we make such effort to have family mealtime? It’s not like we don’t have other things screaming for our attention. In our busy lives, family meals allow us to stop and reconnect for a few minutes. We can check in with everyone about their day and get a read on feelings and emotions. Meal chats can coach hearts through social responses without digging too deeply and giving indigestion through tough conversation. Children can share what they’ve been reading and try out their jokes. We can share food traditions and recipes that have passed down through the generations. Dinner is a great time to make plans or discuss activities everyone wants to try. Conversations around the table can show us what traditions matter or don’t matter to our families. Sometimes it’s not what we expect to hear!
So how do we take a time we know is valuable and learn to roll with the punches? It’s imperative to accept reality and adjust our expectations accordingly. Maybe we even need to stop scrolling through social media and blogs that feed our Pinterest perfect ideals. I’d love to share with you how our family has been able to enjoy meals together while simplifying and learning flexibility through various life seasons.
Parents teach life skills through family mealtime. Meal planning, budgeting, grocery shopping, and cooking skills are all shared by example. For our older children, we can have them join us and start to take over some of those responsibilities.
Our little ones also gain nutrition habits and health benefits through family meals. We can easily share about different food groups, nutrients, and healthy patterns. Group meals allow us to watch for unhealthy behaviors around food and teach healthy food relationships. Let’s be sure we concentrate on health benefits and not weight loss!
All of this we’ve likely heard before. How do we implement this in our already full lives? For our family, over the years, one of the biggest ways we’ve held on to family meal time is flexibility. Usually, the evening meal is considered the ideal family mealtime. As homeschool families, we have a bit more freedom if our schedule demands it.
When my husband worked the night shift, we had breakfast together before he headed to bed. When he worked multiple jobs, we had lunch together as our main meal. This also simplified evenings when it was just our one daughter and me. If your family is struggling to have consistent evening meals together, consider how you can adjust traditional expectations to make the best of this season!
While we need to be flexible, family mealtime is not going to happen if we do not plan for it. Decide with your spouse what your goal is for both meals and budget. Keeping your calendar in front of you while choosing meals is helpful. Then you know if you need a fast meal or if you want to spend some time cooking a favorite elaborate meal.
Be realistic though! It is okay to plan a meal rotation of simple family favorites. It is completely acceptable to choose simple meals in a season of overwhelm. This school year, we had one of our most crazy schedules. About four nights a week, we had the same meals on rotation. I thought the children would get bored, but they really loved taco Tuesday, soup Saturday, etc. Personally, I grew bored, but the simplicity was worth it.
Bookmark some websites that you trust for recipes. Some of my favorites are these:
Be willing to adjust your meal choices or prep style instead of completely abandoning your goal of family time. Don’t forget to share responsibilities—prep, cooking, and clean up! Sometimes it’s fun to include extra ambiance. Other times fast and simple are necessary. Be willing to know the difference.
In addition to adjusting during seasons of life, we have the opportunity to work around annual seasons as well. As we anticipate the summer coming and the shift in school hours to other activities, here are some tips that have helped us. Maybe you will be inspired to try some as well.
- Plant a garden. I know. I hear the groans. I am not a gardener. However, my husband is. I am so proud when our girls are so excited to try veggies they helped to grow!
- Eat outside. I’ll admit, this is not always my first choice. We have to drag everything out and bring it all back in. However, we used our yard much more often for meals last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s just so much more relaxed. Spills and messes are ok because the ants and birds will clean it up. The fresh air does everyone good. Conversations about weather or nature around you naturally come up. Everyone likes life learning, right?
- Don’t be afraid to use paper plates!
- Use your grill in the summer. Usually, my husband does the grilling. I took over more of it last year and found that I enjoyed it. Sometimes it forced me outside to enjoy my children playing while I grilled. Other times, I enjoyed the quiet yard while grilling since my children were playing inside. Here are a few links to recipes we enjoyed last summer here and here.
- Use your slow cooker in the summer when you still need that convenience.
- Use seasonal food. Lots of fruits and salads! My husband really enjoys this recipe for Texas Caviar. You can use it as a salsa with tortilla chips or use it over rice with chicken for a meal. It always goes quickly at potlucks, too!
- Don’t forget a good old hot dog roast or even ice cream for dinner.
- Continue using your freezer. Cook twice as much to freeze for a busy night later. Freeze your garden extras.
Don’t let expectations rob you of the benefits of family mealtimes this summer. Think creatively and make it work for YOUR family and season of life. You’ll be so glad you did.