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Ya know sitting down with my 3 kids for a family meal never gets old.

It absolutely feels terrific and I feel triumphant every time!

It used to feel great because I had a baby, a toddler, and an elementary school kid who were melting down by 5 pm hungry & tired but dinner happened.

Now it feels great that my 3 teenagers are all home at the same time, show up at the dinner table and participate in family time.

You, busy moms, know how it feels right?

Sitting down for dinner with your smiling, polite kids, eating their vegetables, cleaning their plates and telling you what an amazing cook you are?

Ha Ha.

Ok not every meal is a masterpiece and not everyone is always a joy to have at the table BUT we do it and it just feels right.

And I know for some of us it’s a real hurdle.

I totally get it. Life is busy, kids are picky, and cooking takes time and attention.

But listen to this:

My niece, Caylee, who’s 13, came for a visit this summer. We did some fun things while she was here for 10 days. On the way to the airport I asked her what her favorite part of the visit was.

Now I never could have guessed in a million years her response.

She got a big smile on her face and said ‘I had so much fun here! It’s hard to choose but I think the best part was sitting down to dinner every night. I love that. And we don’t do that at home very much.’

Wow, I was blown away.

Then a week later my oldest daughter’s best friend joined us for dinner. She said that she loved coming over and sitting down for family meals. It was one of her favorite things.

I began to realize that what seems common to my family isn’t common to every family.

One more story that sticks in my mind:

I remember talking to a frazzled mom friend who felt like she had to go through the Chik Fil A drive-thru at least twice a week, the kids ate dinner in the car because there just wasn’t any time to cook AND sit down together.

I felt lucky that family meals were a habit and a priority for me.

What I want to encourage here is the habit of sitting down for a family meal.

Only 30% of Americans are in the habit of sitting down for family meals.

If you need encouragement to build the habit here it is.

According to Anne Fishel, of Harvard Graduate School of Education

There have been more than 20 years of dozens of studies that document that family dinners are great for the body, physical health, brain, and academic performance, and spirit or mental health, and in terms of nutrition, cardiovascular health is better in teens, there’s lower fat and sugar and salt in home-cooked meals even if you don’t try that hard, there’s more fruit, and fiber, and vegetables, and protein in home cooked meals and lower calories.

Kids who grow up having family dinners, when they’re on their own tend to eat more healthily and have lower rates of obesity.

Furthermore, the mental health benefits of having family dinners are just incredible.

Regular family dinners are associated with lower rates of depression, and anxiety, and substance abuse, and eating disorders, and tobacco use, and early teenage pregnancy, and higher rates of resilience and higher self esteem.

WOW.

Are you ready to sit down for more family dinners?

5 Easy Steps for helping you get family dinner on the table
#1. Meal plan.

Here’s my hack.

I make a HUGE meal on Sunday and sketch out 2 more meals from the leftovers.

For example, chicken on Sunday with roasted carrots & potatoes and salad. I strip that bird after dinner, throw the carcass back in the slow cooker with the veggies it cooked in, cover it with water and put it on low overnight. You’re half way to homemade chicken soup the next night or 3 nights later. I have a blog on how to get 3-4 meals from 1 chicken, check it out! The rest of the chicken goes in the fridge for another night’s meal.

Here’s another ‘meal plan’ hack. I go into the freezer on Sunday and go shopping. I think about how many meals we’ll sit down together for and I say ‘steak for Tuesday, salmon for Friday, last year’s tomato sauce I gotta use up-pasta tomorrow!’

Once it’s out of the freezer, it will get made!

#2. Be flexible with meal time but adamant about sitting down together.

If weeknight dinners are too tough, start with one meal a week, Saturday or Sunday.

Is dinner time too tough? Start with weekend breakfast or brunch.

Sit down for a meal with as many as are home.

Our nightly dinner time is 6:30.

Have a set dinner time for your household.

I know the kids have sports practice, dance rehearsal, riding lessons etc it’s helpful to have that routine in place. Some nights it’s just 2 of us.

#3. Make it a family affair.

Have assigned days for who sets the table, helps with dinner and cleans up. My oldest daughter, Sam, plans, prepares and cleans up on Mondays. My youngest daughter, Izzi, cleans up on Tuesdays and sets the table the other nights. My son, Henry, loves to clean up. Yes, you read that correctly. We are appreciative of Henry’s enthusiasm for a clean kitchen!

#4. Keep healthy options stocked and prepped in your fridge, pantry and freezer.

On the farm eggs and produce are abundant but they aren’t necessarily clean and ready to go.

In addition to making a big meal on Sunday, I prep veggies for the week.

Prep means to me peeling and chopping onions, peppers, potatoes, celery, carrots etc, and having them ready to sauté or roast.

So if you shop at the farmer’s market or are in a CSA this means cleaning and chopping your produce as soon as you have a plan for how and when to use it.

Having a plan for the healthy food in your fridge reduces waste and makes easy work of weeknight meals.

 

#5 Keep calm and carry on!

A favorite mantra of mine: We are not Doers. We are Deciders.

Don’t buy into limiting beliefs that there isn’t enough time or nobody cares anyways… Rearrange, rethink.

There’s enough time for everything that is important to us.

Make a new habit.

I’m a firm believer that sitting down for a family dinner is priceless.