We are big believers in family dinners. Both Jeff and I grew up in families where gathering around the dinner table regularly was the rule rather than the exception. For us, it's just what you do and we did so even before we had kids.
However, if you talk to other parents at school, soccer practice or work you'll quickly learn that family dinner is not that common anymore. There's a lot of information out about the benefits of family dinners, this article is one I stumbled on yesterday. It is full of great information and suggestions.
Yet it many ways, I know it isn't that simple. American families live very busy lives. With both parents often working outside the home, nightly homework (often crazy amounts in my mind) and activities for the kids it is difficult to get everyone home at the same time.
Yes, we have chosen for me to be home full time for many reasons and I'm so thankful that has been possible for the last nearly nine years. It works for us. However, it can still difficult to ensure that we are regularly eating together. Part of this is due to Jeff's crazy work schedule and part is due to afternoon and activities. Though we are very selective and deliberate about how many activities each of us is committed to. Yet, even if Jeff is working 15 hour days and gets home just before bed or while he was deployed, the kids and I sat at the table together most nights and ate. It wasn't always gourmet but we connected.
That's the key in all of this, that you are actually gathering at the table. The focus really isn't on the food at all (as long as it's mainly healthy, whole foods). There are tons of meal planning resources and suggestions for dinner. The struggle seems to come on the evenings when things are just a bit crazier than normal.
Here are some ideas to get you to the table even when there are three practices, scouts and homework.
Use your crockpot. I'm a huge fan of the crockpot and use it year round. While most often used to slow cook meat, you can also do beans, soup, pasta and even cake in the slow cooker. Our house in Colorado didn't have A/C so in the summer I used an outlet in the garage or on the deck.
Pasta. A simple marinara sauce can be made in the amount of time it takes to boil the water and cook the noodles. Saute some veggies or slice some fruit and you're set.
Breakfast for dinner. Scrambled eggs, toast, fruit. Ten minutes. Done.
Popcorn. Make a batch of popcorn (the good stuff, please), slice some cheese or a grab a handful of almonds and add apples.
Freeze ahead or join a meal exchange. There are several ways to do freezer meals. The easiest is likely doubling a recipe, serving half and putting half in the freezer. Then on those busy days, pull a pan of enchiladas out of the freezer to thaw in the morning and reheat quickly to serve. I wrote a bit about the meal exchange I was part of here.
Clean out the fridge. There is nothing wrong with leftovers.
Sandwiches. Quick and easy. Round it out with some veggies or fruit.
Really the options are endless.
One other idea that I've seen several families do is to pack a picnic. It seems that when multiple children are playing the same sport their practice may be at the same place on the same day but there is a 30 minute gap between. So, take any of the options above and pack dinner to go. This also works well on Saturday when one child has a game at ten and the other at one.
The important thing is to gather your family (sans phones and tv, of course) and settle in. You never know what might happen any given evening.
Obviously, this picture isn't from a busy day. Just a Monday. But it's what I had. Besides, every Monday needs some flowers and candlelight. Right?
Also, there have been seasons for our family (we're actually headed in to one soon) where all five of us aren't home for dinner. Ever. During these times, we try to shift our main meal to breakfast. The important thing is that we gather.