by BRI DEROSA
Ah, September. Even though the weather in many areas of the country is still hot and summery, our thoughts are already jumping ahead to fall leaves, apple picking, pumpkins and sweaters.
If you’re a parent, you know this is the month when the temperatures cool down, and the schedules heat up. After-school clubs, sports practices, music lessons and all kinds of school activities like open houses and fundraisers start to crowd the calendar, often squeezing family dinners out of the picture. As challenging as it can be to hold space for regular shared meals, most of us recognize the benefits for every member of the family are too important to ignore. Try these tips to help keep family dinners on your calendar this fall:
Plan your meals. Knowing in advance what you’ll be making for dinner makes grocery shopping easier and helps to streamline the evening routine. Since you’ll be able to make sure you have all the necessary ingredients on hand, there won’t be any last-minute scrambling, and planning ahead also means you can choose quick meals for the busiest evenings and save more time-intensive recipes for nights when you’ll have those precious extra minutes to spare.
If the task seems daunting to you, check online for various meal planning articles, or if you’re the techie type, try using an app like Paprika to help you stay organized.
Whatever you prepare really is good enough, especially if it keeps you from heading to the drive-thru.
Learn to make five fallback meals. The “good enough” dinner philosophy we believe in at The Family Dinner Project website, means whatever you prepare really is good enough, especially if it keeps you from heading to the drive-thru. Fallback meals are ideally dinners you can make in under 20 minutes, with ingredients you often have on hand. A quick dinner of spaghetti with jarred (or homemade, frozen) marinara, an egg scramble with vegetables added, quesadillas or wraps using your family’s favorite fillings or whole-grain pancakes with a side of fruit salad are all examples of easy and tasty dinners that can get your family to the table in a hurry on busy nights.
Get a slow cooker (or take it out of storage!). Most slow cooker recipes can be assembled the night before and refrigerated; then in the morning, all you have to do is pop the insert into the slow cooker base, turn it on and walk away. You’ll come home to a hot meal ready to serve, which is perfect for nights when everybody needs to get fed and on their way for evening activities.
Try some make-ahead meals. Recipes like Tamale Pot Pie (find link here: thefamilydinnerproject.org/food/tamale-pot-pie/) can be made on Sunday afternoon, then heated and served on Monday or Tuesday. While dinner’s heating up, you can take some time to help the kids with their homework or catch up on emails so you’re ready to focus on conversation at dinnertime.
BRI DEROSA, blogs and offers recipes at Red, Round or Green blog www.redroundorgreen.com. She is married and has two young sons. Originally posted at TheFamilyDinnerProject.org, a growing movement of “food, fun and conversation about things that matter”—a non-profit organization currently operating from the offices of Project Zero at Harvard University.