Studies show weeknight family dinners around the table have all sorts of positive benefits – according to WebMD, kids are less likely to use drugs and/or have an obesity problem (an extreme conclusion, right?). In my personal opinion, I’m just hoping family dinners will help our children learn manners and be able to carry on face-to-face conversations with other adults in the future.
But it’s not easy getting dinner cooked and everyone sitting around the table every night, is it? Trying to figure out what to make when you’re brain is tired of thinking, you’re ready to relax after working all day, kids are running around making it difficult to prep… it can be chaotic.
Tips for stress-free weeknight family dinners
We got in the bad habit of ordering takeout more than cooking dinners. When we moved to our new house, we made a serious effort to cook at home. Here are a few things that have made our dinnertime easier, fun, and shockingly stress-free!
1. Give up on fancy recipes.
I loved getting meal delivery service Plated but the prep was just too much for weeknights with two kids running around our feet. We opt to keep it simple: baked chicken, grilled burgers, simple veggies, rice, and crockpot recipes that don’t require a lot of prep or chopping or ingredients. Keeping it really simple and not daunting has made cooking at home during the week a reality. It’s not hard to season a couple of chicken breasts and throw in the oven while rice cooks in a rice cooker and green beans simmer in chicken broth for ten minutes. Is it gourmet? No. Is it a great meal? Yes!
2. Make what your kids will eat.
When Munchkin reached out to me for this post, I had one stipulation: whatever they sent me had to be blue if they would like it to end up on this blog. My daughter (3) has a preference for blue plates and bowls, and I’m strongly in the camp of only arguing about things that matter, so she eats on blue plates! The Munchkin toddler divided plates come in a pack of blue and green, so here it is on the blog. These little plates are fantastic for my kids because the different compartments keep everything separated, and the sides are high which makes it easier for my little one (3) to keep food on the plate rather than spilling over the side (like rice!)
Deal from Munchkin (affiliate link):
I have the same attitude for dinner because there is no need for a power play over food: we’ll make them what they will eat. We typically feed them what we are having for dinner – but sometimes, will make them chicken nuggets or Mac and cheese if we’re having something we know they won’t eat like spicy white chicken chili.
3. Stop trying to cook like an organic food blogger.
Along the same lines as #1… we just gave up trying to be super healthy. Give yourself permission to take the stress out of cooking by just cooking something easy. We eat hot dogs and Mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. There, I admitted it on the internet. That should make you feel better, right? We grill / bake chicken, broccoli and of course have healthy options too… but sometimes, we just make what they like. If we buy food no one wants to eat… guess what happens at the end of the day? We don’t eat it.
4. Take a minute to meal plan each week and stock up.
The key to us not ordering take out every night of the week is having a plan. Sounds obvious, but I get it – it’s tough to map out a week’s worth of meals. See #1 – keeping it simple makes it a lot easier. Spaghetti. Frozen lasagna. Baked Chicken. Roasted Broccoli. Baked Potatoes. Taco Tuesday. You can always toss in a new recipe or something fancier one night, but keeping to the basics will make your weeks manageable. For easy dinner ideas, SixSistersStuff.com is an excellent resource. (I love the videos!)
5. Give the kids a job.
My daughter loves to help in the kitchen, so I find things for her to do. She says, “that’s my job?” when assigned a task like pouring a 1/4 cup of soy sauce into a marinade or adding seasoning to veggies or whisking eggs or tossing a salad. It’s a little messier and sometimes the potatoes are over-seasoned but she loves it and it’s fun to have her in the kitchen.
They also each have their own jobs to get the table ready. My son is in charge of filling water glasses. My daughter puts forks and napkins at the place settings. They help clear the table at the end of dinner. Having small, manageable jobs helps get them ready for dinner and makes them a part of the preparation. Also, it’s sweet!
Our dinnertime used to consist of chaos and eating just to eat … and now, weeknight family dinners have become a time to spend together and having the kids help is a fun way to spend time with them. What are your family dinners like? Any tips? Share in the comments!