Dinnertime can be one of the craziest times of the day. Everyone in the family is usually tired from a long day at school, extracurricular activities and work. It's a daily struggle for most of us.
Thankfully, there are a couple of simple things you can do to turn things around. First, you might find this one small change when you come home can drastically improve everyone's mood.
Plus, here are some easy tips and tricks to turn chaotic feeding frenzies into (somewhat) peaceful meals.
Don’t decide what’s for dinner 10, 20 or 30 minutes before you’re supposed to eat. Sit down as a family once a week and make a game plan. Have everyone participate so you know there will be at least one meal that appeals to every family member. Plus, it gives the kids something to look forward to when “their” meal is around the corner.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
Once you’ve planned your meals for the week, shop and prep as much as you can ahead of time. Make a list of all the food you’ll need so you’re not caught off-guard missing a key ingredient (or get distracted while grocery shopping). Try to prep meals in advance: chop enough veggies for the week or cook up a large batch of chicken or ground beef to use in different meals. When you come home and are ready to start cooking, it’s as easy as pulling your prepped ingredients from the fridge (or freezer) instead of spending time chopping, cutting, slicing and dicing. If it seems like time is never on your side consider trying a meal-kit for added convenience.
When kids get involved in meal prep they are more likely to try new foods (and take ownership in the meal they help make). Find kid-appropriate tasks for each meal, like peeling carrots, snipping herbs with scissors, placing toppings on pizzas or anything else you might be cooking up. Bonus: your little ones will learn healthy and helpful culinary skills that will stay with them into adulthood.
Use shortcuts sometimes
Yes, we all want to make perfectly healthy home-cooked meals, but sometimes a little help, is, well … helpful. Your grocery store is your best ally in helping you prepare halfway homemade meals with shortcut ingredients.
Set the time
Kids of different ages need to eat at different times. If you have little ones (or just very hungry older ones) have an earlier mealtime to avoid anyone getting “hangry.” Enjoy a kid-paced meal early in the evening and follow up with a more relaxed adult meal, snack or dessert after the kids are in bed.
Set the table
Let the kids help set the table. This can be as simple as putting out forks and plates, filling water glasses or getting the condiments. It will get them involved and keep them busy and out of the way while you’re putting the finishing touches on the meal.
Set the pace
Remember that kids of different ages can sit for different amounts of time. While your tween might be able to hold a conversation and a fork for longer than 30 minutes, your toddler can’t, and that’s okay. Make the most of whatever time you can get from your kids, even if some need to leave the table earlier than others.
Set the tone
Dinnertime is not the time to air grievances or dole out punishments. Keep the conversation positive. You can start the meal with a joke or have everyone share something silly or unusual that happened during the day. Here are some great conversation starters to get your kids talking.
And, while it’s good to have ground rules (no elbows on the table or taking a “No-thank-you bite”) don’t run Emily Post-like manner drills.
Turn off to tune in
We spend so much of our day being bombarded by screens (adults and kids alike), so take this time to turn off or put down your devices. Enjoy a distraction-free meal together as a family; you might be surprised by what conversations occur when you’re the only entertainment.
You might also like:
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2019, and updated in January 2022.