This question is one of the questions that always haunts you as a working parent. Every day, around three in the afternoon, it comes to your mind: “Well, what are we going to bring for dinner?”
Whether you receive this question in the form of a letter from your partner or during a marketing meeting, you are involuntarily doing, because dinner time is one of the delicate things of working parents and through it the immense pressures of the dual job of being revealed to the parent as employee and father or as employee and mother.
Why? Because the direct and clearly defined practical problem, which is meal preparation, actually involves a psychological, emotional, and physical problem as well, a problem that working parents experience in their greatest moments of weakness. With tiredness and fatigue at the end of a long working day, resorting to restaurant meals and easy-to-prepare food options, which will not do much good to your health, is very simple.
And after coming home on the way home from work, with our children’s bedtime approaching, it seems impossible to reunite the family at the same time around the same table. Your heart can’t force your child to eat broccoli because his body needs it, especially after you haven’t seen him for nine hours. You hope your days will end with the whole family sitting down to a normal, proper, nutritious, and nourishing meal, but your experience at night leaves you feeling bewildered, stressed, and guilty. You’re not alone, many, if not most, working parents experience the same thing.
Fortunately, there is a better way forward. With a multidimensional approach to tackling the problem, you can go a long way in taming the logistical aspects, reducing your sense of stress, and eating more family. Using simple and specific techniques. We point out 13 of the most effective approaches below.
Look At The Big Picture And Take Charge
Make it a priority. It’s important to complete the budget report, fix the car, prepare for the big client meeting, prepare your child’s school uniform, and do other things. Your schedule is full, the duties you have to do are endless, and many things take priority. If you want to have a family dinner, you should give it the same importance. This may involve a change in thinking, and making family meals an important part of your daily lifestyle (and if you want more convincing in this aspect, check out the scientific studies showing that children who eat with their parents are less likely to become addicted in the future). And one simple and practical step that will help you: From Outlook or Google Calendar, select the evening hours when you want to eat with your family, as well as the times you will devote to buying food and preparing food. When these details are recorded as “official” input, you are more likely to actually get them.
Be serious, and take the pressure off. Chances are that when you think of ‘family dinner’, you imagine a hot dinner cooked with love at home and served in the evening on beautifully decorated plates. Reframe your expectations and let go of that stress. Perhaps commit to meeting for a meal once a week, say every Friday evening. It might be a family breakfast instead of dinner if the school and work schedule helps. It’s okay if the meal itself includes items cooked in the microwave, leftovers, or paper plates. Perfection is not our goal here. Our goal is to eat together on a regular basis.
Enact new laws. Your five-year-old refuses to eat vegetables, your seven-year-old wants pasta without sauce, or they both might ask for cold chips instead of what you give them. But your double job as a working trustee is tough enough without working as a fast-food chef or diplomatic negotiator, so leave those two jobs for today, and make some new hard and fast rules. Everyone gets the same meal: no substitutions, no changes. If you choose not to eat the food served at this meal, you can wait until the next meal. And if you complain, you can wash the dishes. Establishing and sticking to this new system will not be easy, but if you take a firm stance, meals will become easier and more enjoyable from now on.
Mastering The Food Portion
Be ready. It would be impossible to prepare any meal, especially under time pressure, if you did not have the basic kitchen utensils. Do you want a list? Open the New York Times “Modern Pantry” page and store all items listed under “Essentials”.
Save time wherever you can. As a working father or mother, time is the rarest thing you have, and you’re trying to squeeze family meals into your already full schedule. Be efficient. Buy chopped fruits and vegetables. Put essential foods on Amazon’s automatic reorder service. Try a grocery delivery service. (Yes, these can be pricey, but they are much cheaper than ordering indoors.) Once you get home, before you even take off your coat or put your laptop bag in the corner, turn on the oven or put a bowl of water on the hot surface. What will you bake or boil? Who knows! But once your kids are seated in the right place, and you’re back in the kitchen, you’re ready to start cooking.
Snack strategically. If you get hungry when you leave the workplace, or if the kids are on your way home, you may be tempted to turn to the takeaway menu, instant foods, and other similar options. Instead, keep some non-perishable snacks (dried fruits and raw nuts) in the work bag and in the car, and put some healthy appetizers (carrot chunks with hummus and low-fat cheese) aside during the cooking process. This will make everyone happy so that you can enjoy your main meal in peace together.
Use the “add a healthy ingredient” approach. If you’re going to be late for work and decide to grab a burger on your way without leaving your car, don’t torture yourself. Sure, this isn’t the best time for you in terms of cooking or nutrition, but we’re dealing with reality here. If there’s a way to make things better, serve the takeaway with some carrots, oranges, and a glass of milk, and you’ll have a quick meal packed with vitamins A, C, and calcium. Add a healthy ingredient and don’t blame yourself.
Assign each person a job. The more your family members are involved in preparing the family meal, the more likely they are to enjoy it, feel proud of finishing it, and feel like it is their meal. While preparing dinner, have your little one put the napkins on the table or have your second child flip the salad. Or let the kids prepare the meal themselves. To give them some ideas, show them a book called 20 Recipes Kids Should Know, a simple and detailed cookbook written by a 12-year-old (her high school sister took the photos). If a 12-year-old can write a great cookbook, your 10-year-old can work with the steps outlined in it.
Make an emergency meal. An omelette and salad, a frozen burrito, and a piece of fruit. A bag of frozen vegetables cooked in the same water as the pasta and served with sauce from a saucepan. It doesn’t matter what your five-minute meal is, you know your kids are going to eat, but make sure you get a meal like this, it will help you when you need it, and you’ll feel like you’re in control as the family meal declines.
Make Your Time At The Table More Powerful And Fun
Give her a name. Call the meal whatever name you like, “family dinner,” “our family meal,” “eating in the dining room,” or “sitting together, all fine,” and make the name something and don’t change. The name indicates the meaning and significance of the meal and makes even the simplest and quickest of dinners seem part of a wonderful family ritual.
Focus on behaviors as much as on food. You don’t have to set the table with separate forks for meat and fish or expect your four-year-old to wash his hands after eating, but you can use occasional family meals as a way to teach and emphasize the importance of respect and eating etiquette. Encourage your children to wait until everyone is seated to eat, not to interrupt someone telling a story, to use napkins, and to thank the person passing them the sauce. Think of life at the family table as preparation for adulthood.
Make it a happy moment. For a family meal to be successful, it should seem like a haven from the experiences of the day, a reward rather than a job. Keep things positive: Use this time to share any good news, talk about plans for the weekend, such as an upcoming visit from Grandma, and start comments with happy opening phrases like “The funny thing that happened today…”. Don’t ask the children about the engineering test they took yesterday, but let them decide what they are going to talk about.
Make your session short. End-of-the-day events can be challenging for kids of all ages. They get tired, have a shorter attention span than adults, and good behavior wears off quickly. But family meals don’t have to be long to have an effect. What is important is its regularity and quality. When starting your new routine, make sitting together for just 15 minutes around the table a goal. Time will naturally begin to increase as your sons and daughters get older, and the more you practice communicating on the sidelines of shared meals, the more it becomes an essential and indispensable habit for the whole family.