Summer meals are most often casual and relaxed, with kids playing outside later and rigid bedtimes deferred to enjoy the warm evenings.
Outdoor patio dining, barbecues, and lighter evening fare are routines we quickly adapt to in the summer months. Once school starts up again, schedules are more packed: homework and after-school sports, clubs and activities take top billing and children need a regularly set bedtime to be energized and refreshed in order to concentrate and learn in school.
Transitioning from easy summer meals to school night dinners can be an adjustment, but sharing the evening meal together as a family is worth the effort. It can be the best experience in your day!
Scheduling a dinner time is often the most difficult task, since you may have to be flexible to work around everyone’s busy schedule. Making school night dinners together into a habit should be a priority,. It’s an opportunity for parents and children to share ideas, recap the day, discuss problems and suggest solutions, and simply connect with each other. Choose a time that works for the group – a bit earlier or a little later than usual is a small sacrifice if it means that you can all sit down together!
Assign tasks to each family member: setting and clearing the table, pouring water and other beverages, loading the dishwasher, and get your kids involved whenever possible in preparing the meal. Older kids can make the salad or chop veggies, and younger ones will enjoy selecting the vegetable you’ll serve or setting out napkins. Streamline your dinner prep to accommodate the busier schedule and always have plenty of options on hand! When you make your shopping list, stock up on frozen veggies and quick sides like rice or pasta. Plan your entrees ahead of time so you can add some variety to meals with beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian options.
Cooler weather means heartier meals, so make a big pot of soup or stew. Doubling the batch means you can freeze a meal and have it available for those nights when there’s no time to cook. When you prepare a meal with an entree like chicken, double or triple the amount you cook. If tonight’s dinner is oven-baked chicken breast, you’ll have plenty more cooked and ready to use for other tasty main dishes…from chicken salad to a fast chicken and vegetable stir-fry or a satisfying chicken noodle casserole.
Sitting down together for dinner allows you to expose your children to a wider variety of foods, and helps with portion control. Kids who eat dinner with their families eat more vegetables and fruits, and are less likely to fill up on sodas and unhealthy snacks and fried foods. They also get more nutrients like calcium, iron and fiber.
It’s all about having a plan: for timing, shopping, and preparation – and making family dinner time a priority each day. As your family transitions from summer to school days, scheduling and routines will be more important for your kids: regular meals, regular homework time and bedtimes, and even with more hectic schedules, regular time together enjoying the tradition of the evening meal!