First, make a chart of everyone's activities and when they occur each day. Find as many days of the week that offer a mutually convenient time for everyone to get home and help make dinner together. Hopefully it's at least four nights a week, but even if it's only one or two days a week, that's OK. The point is that these days become sacred: nobody cancels out their commitment to the family dinner period, especially if it's only two nights a week.
Next, when setting up the family dinner period, don't feel it has to be the same time each day. If it happens on Mondays at 5:30 pm, then on Tuesdays at 7:00 pm because Suzy has basketball practice after school, then that's fine. Just set aside some healthy snacks for the rest of the family until mealtime. One parent tells us that she leaves a bowl of fruit out; the kids grab a piece of fruit as they are rushing out the door or whenever they feel like snacking.What to do on those nights when family memebrs are scattered all over the place? One reader, Karen McCarthy, is a caterer in Boston, and she has a great suggestion:
"For busy weeknights when we all tend to eat at different times due to sports and coaching schedules, I make what we call "the big sandwich." I split a whole loaf of French bread and fill it with grilled vegetables, or turkey breast and lettuce, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, etc. (I try to make it low-fat and pack in as many veggies as I can). Then it is available to everyone at whatever time is convenient for them, and I know everyone gets a balanced meal."
Don't just make dinnertime your family time. Many families spend Sunday breakfast together, catching up on the previous week and anticipating the week to come. Sundays are relaxed, usually without the stress of homework or evening commuter traffic. There's also less rush in getting food out on the table. It's a great time to spend together, and following it up with an outdoor activity or an Autumn walk extends the good feelings.
Sunday breakfasts are also ideal opportunities to get the whole family involved in cooking. Put a younger child in charge of mixing the pancake batter, and make an older one the Flapjack Flipper. Youngsters also love to scramble eggs and grate cheese, and everyone has fun with an"omelet bar" of chopped goodies they can use in customizing their own omelet (a handy way to use up leftovers, besides!)
This is an edited and updated archive of pages originally published in 1997.
Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.
Modified August 2007
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