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7 Steps to Make Family Dinner Easier

It’s 5:00 again. Homework, swimming, karate, dance, baseball, soccer, whatever. Husband is running late. Toddler is melting down. Baby is crying. Big kids kids are starving. I look in the fridge and see half a gallon of milk, some mayo, ketchup, and some shredded cheese. The pantry is just as bare. Should we go through a drive through on the way to practice? Should we eat cereal before we leave? What about ordering a pizza for when we get back? Teens want to eat in their rooms and snap chat their friends.

Does this sound familiar? Family dinners seem to be something of the past. Yet, for my family, eating dinner together is a priority. We make sure to spend time almost every evening around the dinner table talking about our days and truly being with each other. I understand that making time to prep, cook, sit down, and clean up is difficult. Some days are harder than others. But for us, it’s worth it. 

We have not always been great at family dinner. When my husband and I were first married, we would make dinner and eat in front of the television or eat while doing homework. We were both in grad school and leading crazy lives with little time. However, one night we realized that we were wasting valuable time with each other. Before we were married, we would spend hours and hours just talking. Now, we had mistaken sitting next to each other watching television as quality time. We made a priority to dedicate dinner to family. It has not always been easy, but we do it. I have spent the last 6 months trialing a variety of different ways to make family dinners easier. Here are some of the things I have learned along the way.

1. Make Family Dinners a Priority

If you want to spend more time with your family, dinner is a great time to do it. Make it known that dinner time is family time. Tell your family that their presence is requested and required at the dinner table each night. Make sure you are also setting the standard. If they are required to be present at dinner, so are you. Unplug. Go off the grid for an hour every night. Facebook can wait. Work will be there in the morning. The phone call to cousin Julie is not an immediate concern. Have meaningful face-to-face conversations with the people in your family. The people in your phone who you never see in person can wait.

2. Meal Plan

When my husband and I began “adulting”, meal planning was far from our mind. We wandered the grocery store aimlessly. We would come home with a random assortment of snacks but rarely a cohesive meal. We could not figure out why we never had anything to cook even though we went to the store every week. Finally, we realized that we needed to meal plan. We started planning out dinners and making a specific shopping list. No longer walking down every aisle, we saved money, time, and energy. We got what we needed and had everything to make dinners for the week.

Meal planning can be tedious, but here are my favorite tips.

  • Have a set list of favorite meals that you can choose from when creativity is lacking.
  • Utilize friends and family. Ask for recipes. People love to share their recipes, especially if you tell them how much you love their cooking.
  • Check the sales. If pork loin is on sale this week, plan on making pork chops. 
  • Write it down. Have a place where you can make a list of dinners for the week so you don’t forget what you planned.

3. Grocery Delivery

When grocery stores started home delivery, I heard the collective applause of moms everywhere. Grocery shopping with kids is hard. Simply finding a time during the day when no one is hungry or cranky is difficult. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you to all the grocery stores who are making my life much much easier. 

  • Instacart
    • For a small delivery fee (or free delivery with specific purchase amount), Instacart will shop for and deliver groceries to your home. Depending on your zip code, the offer delivery as quick as 1 hour from stores such as Costco, Family Fare, Petco, CVS, Fresh Thyme, SuperSaver, and Natural Grocers. 
  • Hy-vee
    • For a small delivery fee (or free delivery with specific purchase amount), Hy-Vee will gather and delivery groceries to your door. On the website, schedule a delivery time, save frequently purchased items in a shopping list, and add specific shopping instructions (i.e., ripe bananas, paper grocery bags).  Hyvee also offers a pick up option. A personal shopper will gather your groceries and you pick up in a reserved parking spot in the parking lot.
  • Walmart
    • With a minimum purchase, Walmart will shop for you and have your groceries ready for pick up. Reserve a time on their website and stop by while you are out. Park in a reserved spot and your groceries are brought out and loaded into your car for you.
  • Baker’s
    • With Kroger Clicklists, you can order groceries online and pick up curbside at a reserved time. The website allows you to browse sales and clip coupons. While there is a service charge to use Clicklists, the charge is waived on your first three orders. Kroger has also combined with a third-party delivery service to offer home delivery of your Clicklist items. A service charge will be applied.

4. Freezer Meals

When our second son was born, my husband and I spent an entire weekend preparing freezer meals. It was worth every second. We had meals for months. With a new baby, all I had to do was remember to thaw dinner in the morning and put it in the oven in the evening. 

If the thought of making months of freezer meals intimidates you, there are plenty of people out there to help. 

  • Wildtree 
    • Wildtree is a lifesaver for our family. All ingredients are allergy friendly, non GMO, and contain no artificial colors. Wildtree has combined with Hyvee delivery to make freezer meals super easy. A Wildtree consultant helps you either host or attend a freezer meal workshop. You show up with measuring cups and make a months worth of freezer meals in a few hours. Hyvee does all the food prep – dicing/slicing/chopping. And the meals are downright delicious. 
    • Wildtree also gives you the option of ordering individual products, skillet meals, and freezer meal kits to complete at home. Their app has a feature to help meal plan with the ingredients available in your kitchen.
  • Hy-Vee
    • Hyvee dieticians offer freezer meal workshops at individual store locations. All ingredients are available at workstations. All you have to do is chop and prepare. No clean-up required. 

5. Meal Prep and Delivery Services

I have tried many different meal prep and delivery services. There are local and national options. Local companies have the ability to prepare food for you because they are not shipping through the mail. National companies ship a freezer box through the postal service which means a little more prep work for you. From my experience, the national companies are fairly similar. Any of those listed below are good choices if you are looking for some new recipes or for a fancier “adult” dinner.

6. Enlist the Help of Your Family

At times it can feel like family dinner is a mom’s responsibility. Like if you don’t make it, it won’t happen. Not true. It’s FAMILY dinner. Everyone is eating. Everyone can help. Delegate tasks to members of your family. By cooking together, you save time and energy. You also increase the amount of family time during family dinner.  

7. Give Yourself a Break

I don’t know about you, but I’m not an award winning chef. I’m not Julia Child or Bobby Flay. And because of that, my family doesn’t expect a five course meal every night. We utilize left overs. We eat hot dogs and mac and cheese sometimes. We order pizza occasionally. While we try to cook healthy meals, we don’t stress about it every day. Family dinner is about family. I don’t remember what we ate last week. I do remember laughing with my kids about my husband’s bad joke. I do remember talking about how proud we were of my oldest for swimming across the pool. I remember the time we spent together not the meals we ate. So, do your best but cut yourself some slack. And if you eat cereal for dinner one night, laugh about it and make the most of the time with your family.

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