“Time is the No. 1 obstacle for most families in eating together,” says psychologist and family therapist Anne Fishel, PhD, cofounder of Harvard’s Family Dinner Project. Here she offers several strategies for finding more time to dine together.
- Take Advantage of Any Opportunity to Eat Together: “If you count all the meals in a week, there are 16 opportunities for your family to eat together,” she says. And to work around schedules, be flexible: Think of weekend brunches. Have intentional snacks together, such as an evening snack after homework is done.
- Skip the Snooze Button: “Breakfast may work better for some families to eat together. If you don’t press the snooze button on your alarm clock, you get seven or 10 extra minutes in the morning and you can have a healthy breakfast and share fun and interesting conversation.”
- Take Shortcuts to Meal Prep: “Don’t focus too much on the food not being gourmet or fancy or using heirloom tomatoes and such. The benefits of family meals come from more than just the food.” Fishel suggests ordering the occasional takeout meal or shortcuts such as buying a rotisserie chicken or precut vegetables. Make double batches of meals, freeze half, and heat it up for another dinner. And keep your larder stocked so you can whip up quick dishes when needed. “These shortcuts won’t subtract points from the power of a family dinner.”
- Eat in Shifts: “Many families have desperate schedules with extracurricular activities and more, so try feeding in overlapping shifts. Feed younger kids cut-up vegetables and fruit, then the next shift can have the main meal, and you might all sit together for dessert.”
- Prioritize: “Decide what your family values are,” she advises — and put family meals high on the list. She points to advice by family therapist William Doherty, PhD, author of The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties, who recommends that parents meet with teachers and soccer coaches and try to work out new times for performances and practice sessions if they are getting in the way of family meals. “Instead of the umpteenth extracurricular activity, sometimes you need to let go of certain things so you can have dinner together a couple times each week,” Fishel says.
She offers more ideas in her book, Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids.
This was excerpted from “4 Steps to Better Family Meals” which was published in the May 2019 issue of Experience Life magazine.