Author Jeanne Muchnick offers practical tips for busy moms on how to make dinnertime easier.
Whether you're a working mom, stay-at-home mom, or someone in between, most days you probably have a hectic schedule with a million to-dos and no end in sight. We get it: You're overworked, underappreciated, and barely have time to sneak in a sandwich let alone get a healthy dinner on the table. And you're not alone - according to the Journal of Adolescent Health, one-third or less of American families say they have dinner together less than three days a week, even though research shows that 98 percent of moms think it's important. When families don't make time for dinner, there can be serious implications. According to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, teens who have dinner with the family less than three times a week are more likely to drink, smoke and do drugs.
"Our lives have become so busy, we've all overscheduled our kids and we've lost sight of the fact that we need to spend time with our families and make them more of our priority," says author Jeanne Muchnick, whose new book, Dinner for Busy Moms: Easy Strategies for Getting Your Family to the Table (Plain White Press), gives moms no-nonsense ways to get dinner together without the guilt. "Dinner is like a warm hug at the end of the day: it's a way to come together as a family, and when you do, there's nothing that beats it."
A self-proclaimed "non-cook," Muchnick says it's not about perfection, but what works for you and your family. "If you can get dinner together two or three nights a week, whatever it is, you'll be doing better than you're doing now." Read on for some of the best tips from the book, and pick the ones that suit your family to get dinner on the table tonight!
Get organized. Go through your pantry, refrigerator, and anywhere you store food and get rid of anything that has expired. Then take stock of the items you have so you'll know what you need to buy. Create a shopping list and save it on your computer, then just add what you need each week. We tend to eat the same things over and over, so be sure to stock up on those items. "If you have the staples you need, you can always put together a week's worth of dinner," Muchnick says. And if you're really tight on time, order your groceries online and have them delivered.
Plan to plan. Just as you schedule your week to fit in all your work obligations - plus your kids' soccer games, ballet lessons, and playdates - make the time to plan your family's meals. An hour or even 15 minutes will do. Plan tomorrow's dinner the night before by taking out frozen leftovers, or prepackaged meats and fish, and all the staples you'll need. Or on Sundays, cut up all the vegetables you'll need for the week and store them in individual containers.
The freezer is your friend. If you're already making dinner, why not make two? Divide the leftovers into serving sizes you can freeze and heat up at a later date and nothing will go to waste. Make sure the freezer is always filled with proteins, frozen vegetables, pizzas, and soups, and label all items with a date; put the newest items in the back so you'll use the oldest ones first.
Don't be a short-order cook. If you're making pasta but one child doesn't like tomatoes, and the other broccoli, offer a variety of ingredients and let them make their own creations. The meal is essentially the same and everyone is happy!
Make it a family affair. Let your kids help to mix, marinate, and stir, or buy a cookbook for them and let them cook dinner one night (with your supervision). If your kids are picky eaters or they don't like what you've made, bring them to the grocery store and let them pick a few items they like. You can also designate a night for each child to decide what's for dinner within the parameters you set. If you teach your children responsibility by letting them help to put the groceries away, set the table, and help with cleanup, dinnertime will be a breeze.
"Dinner is like a warm hug at the end of the day: It's a way to come together as a family, and when you do, there's nothing that beats it."
Make it fun. Allow your children to invite one or two friends over for dinner occasionally; it not only gets your children talking more, but they're more likely to eat foods that their friends do. Theme nights can be fun too. Choose "Pizza Night," or "Taco Night," or pick up discounted themed items like seashells for a beach theme and something to make dinner extra special.
Do the Best You Can. It's not important what you're serving, Muchnick says, but that you're sitting together and having dinner as a family, so give yourself a break if you don't have the food pyramid on the plate. Breakfast for dinner, soups and sandwiches, and even takeout is okay. Use canned, frozen, prewashed, precut, or prepackaged if you want - anything to make dinner easier.
For more information about Jeanne Muchnick or to purchase her book, visit www.jeannemuchnick.com. A portion of the book proceeds will go to Family-to-Family.org, an organization that feeds hungry families, founded by mom Pam Koner.