Have you ever stopped to think about how much "family time" you get on a weekly basis? I'm not talking about watching baseball practice or hosting a sleepover for your daughter. I mean hanging out with just the family—no friends tagging along or focusing on extracurricular activities. For many of us, quality time together is minimal because we're busy. Although many of us regret not setting aside time to spend with our loved ones, a world of convenience and instant everything pushes us along at such a fast pace. As a result, we become sleep-deprived overachievers and overeaters.
Research shows that families who eat together benefit in more ways than one. Sitting down to share meals boosts communication and strengthens relationships. Kids who regularly enjoy family meals around the table statistically perform better in school and tend to make better choices, even under peer pressure, about alcohol, drugs, sex, etc. They also tend to learn better nutrition habits that transition into their teen years and adulthood.
But there's one problem. If you've been eating on the go or on the couch for months—maybe even years—you may wonder how will you ever get the rest of the gang back on board. Here are five ways to get the whole family around the dinner table again:
1. Give them a choice
Let family members take turns choosing what's for supper. Allowing them to feel some control and responsibility adds to their enthusiasm and desire to take part.
2. Create theme days
Believe it or not, kids really do love structure, and knowing that it's "Taco Tuesday" provides them with security and excitement.
3. Assign roles
Everyone has a place in the kitchen. Whether it's setting the table or loading the dishwasher, everyone—from toddler to teen—can do something. Turn setup and cleanup into time spent together.
4. Plan ahead
You can't get away from supper. Grumbling tummies must be fed. Try to pick recipes that say they will take around 30 minutes to prepare. And don't forget to use your crockpot or slow-cooker. While the recipes will take longer to cook, they can be prepped in around 30 minutes and will be hot and ready the second you walk in the door after a long day.
5. Keep it upbeat
Background music, fun conversation, and verbal games, like "I spy," all add to the ambiance and mood of family dinner time. This is not the time for scolding about bad grades or messy rooms. Designate a separate time to address those issues.
This article was adapted from Skinny Suppers: 125 Lightened-Up, Healthier Meals for Your Family (William Morrow Cookbooks, Hardcover, available wherever books are sold, ISBN: 9780062419156, $29.99) by Brooke Griffin, author and the creator of SkinnyMom.com, where moms "get the skinny" on healthy living. Her new best-selling cookbook helps families eliminate the question of "What's for dinner?" and helps put the joy back into family suppertime.