The end of a relaxing summer marks the start of busy school year: time to trade in summer cookouts and picnics, for all-too-hectic suppers at home. That said, workday commutes, after-school activities, and time-pressing homework all make recommitting to the routine of family mealtime a real challenge for many households.
Yet, family meals, as part of the school day, are well worth the effort. With school success top of mind, parents are reminded that regular family mealtime matters. This not only builds family bonds but also contributes to good health and better school performance!
With the start of the school year, consider these strategies to turn your time into family mealtime:
Plan ahead. Stay ahead by planning a week’s menus at a time, perhaps with plan-over menus made from yesterday’s leftovers.
Stock up with quick-to-fix foods. Keep pasta, rice, canned beans, frozen and canned vegetables, pasta sauce, deli meats, cheese, and other basic ingredients on hand for quick, emergency meals.
Do pre-prep the night before. Perhaps cook taco meat ahead, prepare pasta sauce, shape meatballs or turkey patties, clean and slice vegetables, and more.
Organize do-it-yourself assembly meals. Try individual mini-pizzas, made with everyone’s favorite toppings; or a home-cooked taco bar with soft tortillas or crisp taco shells; or macaroni and cheese with an array of “add-ons,” such as sun-dried tomatoes, chopped ham or smoked turkey, chopped herbs, or steamed veggies.
Prepare one-dish meals. Put variety into a dish, perhaps lasagna, layered with cheese, meat sauce, and baby spinach; risotto with seafood, Swiss chard, and cheese, or stir-fry vegetables and tofu, tossed with rotini. You’ll only need to add a salad or bread, and a nourishing beverage such as milk.
Make one meal count for two. Cook double batches of meat sauce for spaghetti one day and sloppy Joes the next. Extra grilled chicken breasts from one night’s meal make a great chicken pasta salad another night.
Involve kids in the kitchen. Most kids can do simple food prep tasks, such as toss salads, mix ingredients, pour milk, and set and clear the table. “All hands on deck” in preparation can result in more time for your family to spend together at the table.
Keep a collection of quick-to-fix recipes that your family enjoys. If a recipe is a hit, plan to make it again!
Roberta L. Duyff, MS, RD, CFCS is author of the American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, with more on meals for time-pressed lifestyles.