Family Dinners and Working Parents, Written by Leandra Schwanda
Are you hungry for a better work-life balance? Today’s workforce carries unprecedented mindfulness of overall health. Meals matter more than ever. We research food sourcing, wholesomeness, and sustainability. And just for fun—Can we request a side of fast and convenient? Families are being challenged to offer healthy food options, make it to ballet practice on time, and get that promotion-worthy pitch wrapped up by 9 a.m.
There is no blanket solution; our schedules vary as much as the reviews on age-defying skin creams (more on that later). The good news, however, is that a little planning goes a long way. I would also like to preface these thoughts by advocating for healthy after-school snacks. In moderation, a snack offers just enough of a time extension to get organized for dinner. It also serves as a much-needed mood booster. Give it some thought.
She’s Making a List…
It’s extremely helpful to plan out at least five meals for the upcoming week. Proudly display your menu on a cute café-style chalkboard in the kitchen. Enjoy your family’s excitement when they realize their favorite meal is on the horizon. Jot down the required mealtime items, and do your best to stick to the list. Standing in the middle of a two-acre produce section is not the ideal place to gather your thoughts. Be sure to watch for expiration dates, and plan your meals in order of freshness. This method is a real-life-saver when your meeting runs long and you barely make it home by dark. Who needs the anxiety of a last-minute pantry expedition?
There’s no shortage of recipes for make-ahead dinners, freezer meals, and one-pan wonders. A scheduling glitch is inevitable, and flexibility is key. This is also a great way to delegate dinner. Teach your children the fine art of pre-heating the oven and the mastery of “tossing it in”. Get to know your way around a slow cooker and a pressure cooker. This knowledge comes in handy when the chalkboard menu just won’t do. And bonus—dinner will be waiting on you!
Nights at the Round Table
A fun family dinner is a food for the soul. (Try this when you don’t have to be up early the next morning.) Establish a few rules. Choose a specific gathering time at the table in a smartphone-free environment. Expect the kids to look at you like you have three heads, but stand your ground. It’s surprisingly rejuvenating. Creativity is your only limit here. I have had a blast with a red-checkered tablecloth, a candlelit table, and Frank Sinatra crooning in the background on Italian Night. Host a make-your-own pizza buffet.
Assign one part of the meal to each individual family member, and watch the kitchen antics ensue. Place a variety of appetizers around a fun family board game. And, if you really want to lure the kids to the table, play their favorite trap music while preparing dinner. Family meals can be fun! It’s a thing; I promise. There’s plenty of time for etiquette lessons before you go out to a stylish dinner in the city.
The En Route Meal
Grab-n-go situations are often unavoidable. Don’t beat yourself up over it. There’s something to be said for putting down the phones, removing the AirPods, and sharing a cooler meal on the way to an event. The key here is to plan ahead. You can make it healthy. You can make it light. Just make it! It’s super tempting to skip a meal altogether or opt for a granola bar (also an acceptable try-not-to-do-it-every-night option). Give yourself a break. There’s a lot on your plate (pun intended) and, sometimes, the drive-thru is just the way to go. Be malleable. Enjoy this dedicated time with your family.
Think Outside the Box
If your evenings are spent at a practice field, community theatre, or jostling from one extracurricular activity to another, fret not. You don’t need a box (e.g., a house or restaurant) to enjoy a family meal. If you’re wrapping up tee-ball practice around dinner-time, grab a blanket from the car and make it a picnic. This is especially useful for avoiding the hangry evening moments when everyone explodes into the house needing downtime, baths, and food all at once!
We live in exciting times. We have finger-tip technology to research, plan meals, and even have our grub delivered. Dinners with working parents may look a little different from our past, but we still have access to the main ingredients: love, nourishment, and time with family. And, for a fun throw-back to the conventional family meal, give Gram the spotlight to show off her skills. (I still don’t know what she put in those green beans, but it was pure heaven.) The important thing is to be together; that’s a recipe everyone can enjoy.