Thursday, April 21, 2011

Five Dinner Survival Tips for Parents

Today's post is in the spirit of Been There, Done That!  For many years our Just One Donna! household was one with two parents working outside the home dealing with long work hours and frustrating commutes.  Even so, it was important at our house to have an evening meal together as often as we could during the week.

Do you embrace the concept that a family that eats together, stays together?  We always viewed our family dinner as a time to take a breath, catch up and stay connected.   Are you spending too much money on takeout and restaurant meals?  Cooking at home can save both money and calories.  It's win-win all around.

"OK," you say.  "I buy in, but it is easier said than done."  You are so right.  It is easier said than done, but if we could do it, so can you.  Here's some suggestions on how to get started.

1.  Develop a repertoire of "good food, fast" meals.  By fast I mean meals that take 30 minutes from in the door to on the table. 

Yes, it can be done.  It will take some trial and error to settle on the repertoire your family likes, but that trial and error process can be fun, if you make it fun.

Are you at a loss for where to start?  Buy a cook book that focuses on quick meals and start cooking. 

Nigella Lawson has a cookbook, Nigella Express: 130 Recipes for Good Food, Fast.  That's as good a place to start as any.

2.  Keep your pantry, refrigerator and freezer stocked with the basics.  Post a shopping list in an accessible place in the kitchen.  Train all family members to write products needed on the list. 

Use that list as the foundation of your weekly grocery shopping.   That way you will always have the ingredients you need on hand.

3.  Prepare only one meal for dinner.  I hear the gasps out there now!  "Oh no, my sweet Johnny will only eat chicken fingers."

 Trust me, that's only because you are willing to make Johnny his chicken fingers.  It may mean a couple of bumpy nights retraining Johnny about what to eat for dinner, but Johnny won't starve.  When Johnny is hungry he will eat what he is served.

4.  Embrace semi-homemade.  You CAN make delicious dinners fast if you rely upon the time saving products available in your local grocery store.  Are you making meatloaf burgers?  Buy the prepared meatloaf mix in the meat section of your grocery store.  Having sesame grilled salmon?  Buy a prepared sesame marinade. 

You want spaghetti and meatballs?  Jarred sauce and frozen meatballs will work in a pinch and make this an easy meal to put on your table.  Remember, the rotisserie chicken at your grocery's deli counter is your friend!

5.  Engage the whole family.  Assign age appropriate tasks to the children.  When Mom and Dad are both working together in the kitchen it provides an opportunity to catch up on the day and set a good example for the kiddies. 

Sure, you'll trip over each other in the beginning, but soon enough you'll each fall into your respective role in preparing the meal. 

Are you a single parent?  Preparing dinner with the kids can be an opportunity to talk and work together as a family. 

It's all good.  Together you will create a set of family meals that become part of your family's shared history.  You may even develop a family of adventurous foodies.  It's OK to fail in this experiment.  We laugh about many of our failed dinner experiments.  Not every dinner you create together will be a keeper.  It's the journey that will endure.

Do you have a 30 minute, in the door to table recipe you'd like to share? 
Family dinners, oh yeah!


  1. Hi there! Great post! We always (6 out of 7 meals) eat dinner together at the dining room table. Growing up that's how it was for me and hubby, and we turned out GREAT! lol jk My 16 yr. old complains and says that none of his friends have to be home for dinner every night. If that's true that is just sad to me. Thanks for dropping by my blog yesterday, have a good one!


  2. Eating dinner as a family was always important to me when my kids where young, not always easy when both parents work. We also had baseball and track to work around. I totally agree with you, dinner is what's on the table, no special requests! My kids are all grown and out of the house, but they still remember fondly the time set aside for the family meal. Those are the best memories and the best conversations.

  3. Nigella Lawson is basically my kitchen heroine as of late. Between Nigella Express and Nigella Kitchen, we've been eating so well and so quickly!

    My biggest dinner trick is knowing when our trouble nights will be - I either plan something with extremely

  4. Hi, I'm from SITS. Thanks so much for visiting my blog yesterday. I'm going to try your pizza recipe - it looks delicious!


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