Family Dinner for Conflicting Schedules

When our children engage in programs we begin to picture what it will be like calculating the tight timing and imagining the rush we may feel to get them there (or worse, pick them up) on time. Of course, the car pool logistics are just one part of a larger puzzle that also includes pieces for homework, dinner and dare I say “down time.” At a time when many of you are already questioning the “joy of cooking” and feeling stressed by the pressure of getting a meal together every day, how can we make it easier when everyone seems to be coming and going on different, very busy schedules?

Garlic Herb Meat Loaf

Change dinner time…

Is your child busy immediately after school or a few hours later? It may seem strange to eat dinner at four o’clock, but if activities are happening in the early evening then this is exactly what should happen. If not, your child may develop a habit of eating a large snack after school and dinner way too late in the evening, which together are likely too much food for even the most active child. I highly recommend an early dinner and a light snack later.

Family Note:Naturally, it may be hard to get the whole family around the dinner table at 4 o’clock. It may be possible, however, to get everyone together at 7:30pm when school-age children are enjoying their evening snack. By having these two “around the table” moments (early and late) you increase the opportunity for sharing your day together (even if you are eating different foods).

Reconsider family dinner…

Let’s be honest. I hear from many of you that dinner Monday through Friday is just, well, chaos. It is stressful for the person who feels responsible for getting the food on the table and often unappreciated or barely enjoyed by the very busy family members eating it. The result is that family dinner as we imagine it “should” be just doesn’t happen. Instead, as we scramble to create dinner, we have a chaotic evening that may cost more than it should and possibly isn’t the most nutritious solution.

Family Note:  Okay, so it may not be very “dietitian” of me to undermine the importance of family dinner, but I believe that on a busy night (or during the several that get us through the week), it is most important that our family eats nutritious food and that we find a way to connect. I realize that for many families this may not come in the form of an ideal family dinner. That’s okay.  I suggest choosing a few nights every week when you can come around the table and truly enjoy a traditional family dinner. Your family will come to look forward to the nights your family eats together and will even likely make plans around the meal instead of during it.

Some dinners that are easy to make and serve as family members come and go…

So if your family intends to eat dinner early and late, you need meals that can be easily reheated such as Minestrone Soup, a hearty soup that simply needs a side of veggies to round it out or healthful Roasted Squash and Eggplant Casserole with Chicken, which is easy to reheat. Naturally, using quiet days at home to make dishes ahead or setting the slow cooker to cook and then keep warm on a busy day are essential steps to streamlining your week. Lastly, consider these ideas, which come together quickly and are easily reheated…

Salad Bar: recreate your favorite salad bar at home with an array of toppings that family members can use to assemble a healthful, balanced salad when they are ready to eat. Consider adding Kale Salad with Roasted Winter Squash for a unexpected addition.

Fajitas:  prepare the fixings for these healthful fajitas that are equally delicious with a tortilla or without

Loaded Baked Potatoes or Mashed Potato Bar: have baked potatoes on hand as well as shredded reduced fat cheese, steamed broccoli, finely diced chicken and or other toppings for baked or mashed potatoes. For superfast mashed potatoes, try one Guiding Stars Ore-Ida Cut Russet Potatoes Steam N’ Mash or 3 Guiding Stars Ore-Ida Cut Sweet Potatoes Steam N’ Mash

Breaded or Grilled Chicken: have prepared chicken on a hand for a variety of dinner options that can fit the mood of different family members and be used to create a variety of casseroles or other dishes

No Fuss Healthy Meat Loaf: Prepare this Guiding Stars meatloaf as is or prepare it in small tins or as muffins (adjust cooking time), which are easy to freeze for future meals if you have extra on hand. Round out the meal with simple steamed vegetables (and possibly leftover mashed potatoes you have).