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When you arrive home after a long workday, your mind is on your family ... plus the stack of bills to pay, the pile of laundry to do and the list of phone calls to return. But dinner? It's tough to imagine how you're going to make this meal happen at all, let alone make it healthy, tasty and maybe even fun. But believe it or not, you can. Here's how:
1. Get the Kids in on the Action
"Parents often park their children in front of the TV, then rush around making supper. Why not get the kids to help?" says Miriam Weinstein, author of The Surprising Power of Family Meals: How Eating Together Makes Us Smarter, Stronger, Healthier, and Happier (Steerforth Press). "Making kids part of the effort gets them invested in what you're cooking together, so they're less likely to complain about it later."
Younger kids can:
• Get out the ingredients
• Pour them into pots or bowls (you measure, they pour)
• Wash fruits and veggies
• Tear lettuce for a salad
Older ones can:
• Chop fruits and vegetables
• Toss and dress the salad
• Make pasta or rice
• Measure and mix ingredients
2. Get Ready, Get Set …
To make fast, enjoyable meals each day that are still healthy, you have to prepare, and sometimes cook, in advance. For starters, buy extra of things you use often so you always have staples on hand. Choose dishes that don't require you to stand at the stove: stews, roasts, casseroles that can be assembled the night before. While they are cooking or reheating, you can take the time to sift through your mail, check your child's homework, or return phone calls or emails.
Things to do the night before:
• Make the sauce
• Chop the vegetables
• Sautee the onions
• Marinate the meat
• Wash the lettuce (store in a plastic container in the fridge)
3. Double up
Rather than making just one meal at a time, try doubling recipes when you cook. Freeze whatever you don't use for a later dinner that can be reheated easily.
4. Commit to the Ritual
Studies show that eating together as a family reduces the risk of obesity and encourages children to try new foods. It also helps kids learn good manners. But the biggest benefit to having family dinner is that it brings everyone together -- for perhaps the only time during the day. It provides a regular opportunity to connect: to ask your kids about their days, joke around or make family plans.
"Eating together is a gift you give yourself and your family," says Weinstein. "It doesn't matter if the food is perfect -- just that you enjoy it together. Then mealtime becomes a chance to feel good about your family instead of just one more chore."
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Elizabeth Hurchallais a freelance writer in Venice, Calif. She has written for Cosmopolitan, InStyle and many other publications.