Food

Revisiting family style dinners

How to spend more time with your family, over food.

Eating, whether alone or with others, is such a ubiquitous part of life that it can easily be taken for granted. Hectic schedules and the familiar temptation to eat in front of a screen—TV, phone or computer—make it even easier to forget the purely pleasurable aspect of eating meals with family and friends. Reticence is understandable in today’s social media-saturated world; there’s real pressure to make all the right foods from scratch and an expectation that conversation will be effortless and conflict-free.

 

This article encourages you to take a step back and find value in the everyday aspects of family style dining. From planning to prep to clean up, here’s how to simplify and enjoy mealtime with family while reaping the physical and mental rewards of a shared meal.

 

Keep it simple

 

The key to regular family dinners is simplicity, especially on weeknights when even a 30-minute meal can seem like too great a task. Fortunately, there are myriad ways to streamline the process without sacrificing nutritional quality or great taste.

 

  • Don’t be afraid to rely on the convenience of your local deli counter for delicious foods you know your family will love. A rotisserie chicken can be used to form the basis of many meals, whether you serve as-is, in a salad or as a sandwich filling. While you’re shopping, stock up on a couple of different bean or grain salads, healthy dips and marinated vegetables for meals throughout the week.
  • Make friends with your freezer. Next time you’re making tomato sauce, double or triple the recipe so that you can portion out and freeze extras. This same advice applies to homemade soup, chili, cooked ground meat, cooked grains, mini quiches, grated firm cheeses, shredded chicken or pork, and diced tofu.
  • Realize that a family dinner consisting of PB&J sandwiches with carrot sticks and hummus is just as valuable as a multi-course, formal sit-down dinner with all the fixings. Keep expectations fair for yourself and your family on the busiest of nights.

 

Make the entire process a family affair

 

What would a family dinner be without the help of your family? Getting the entire household involved with the process—whether that’s cooking or setting the table—is a fantastic way to encourage open conversation, teach new life skills, and model healthy eating habits.

 

  • Get the whole family involved with menu planning. Instead of putting pressure on yourself to plan an entire week’s worth of meals (which may or may not be appreciated), ask for your family’s help with the brainstorming process. Older children can look through cookbooks and favourite food blogs for inspiration.
  • Give each family member a task when preparing meals. This could be chopping vegetables, stirring food over the stove, setting the table, or cleaning up after the meal. Rotate assigned tasks regularly to ensure everyone is learning a full array of valuable kitchen skills.
  • Make meal prep a fun experience by listening to music, podcasts or audiobooks while everyone is working on their assigned tasks. There’s nothing like a dance party while doing the dishes to turn a tedious chore into a smile-worthy task.

 

Eating with others is beneficial to your health

 

There are numerous physical and emotional benefits to be gleaned from eating with others regularly. Research has shown that adults are more likely to consume larger portions of plant-based and nutrient-dense foods when they’re enjoying food in the company of other people. The psychological benefits of sharing a meal are particularly important for children and teenagers; not only are they more likely to adopt long-lasting healthy eating habits, they’re more likely to develop positive communication skills and higher self-esteem through positive parental interactions.