As much as we'd love to sit down to a home-cooked family dinner every single night, sometimes life just gets in the way thanks to hectic work schedules, seemingly endless kids' activities, and homework to boot. While it's important to have more than one easy dinner recipe under your belt when you're crunched on time, getting everyone around the table is a challenge regardless of what you put on it. Thankfully, we've tapped our parenting community to see how they manage to get their entire squad to break bread together — and how often — here are their most helpful tips.
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Meal prep. Meal prep. Meal prep.
"My kids are still young — 7 and 9 years old — so they don't have tons of evening commitments yet. Aside from Tuesday night gymnastics, we do family dinners at the table together. We take turns talking about our day: something that made us laugh, something they learned, or what they're excited about.
I also like to meal prep on Sunday night by cutting up veggies, cooking brown rice for the week, or making pizza dough or a lasagna to cook later. Then, I'll plan out the dinners out for the week, they're usually the same: Monday I make buddha bowls, Tuesday is something quick — like bean quesadillas — to pack for gymnastics, Wednesday we have breakfast for dinner, Thursday is pizza night, and Friday evening I'll make pasta. I like to have the kids help with dinner, which teaches them about healthy cooking and gets them more likely to eat it." — Jenny Sugar
Make having dinner together a habit, even if it's only for a few minutes.
"I have a 19-month-old who eats around 5:30 p.m., so unfortunately it's just her and I for dinner as my husband gets home much later. I do try to make it a routine, though. We sit together at the table and I talk to her as much as I can about what she's eating. If I can, I'll keep devices off the table. She eats in one of those travel high chairs but doesn't love to sit for long. So our 'family dinner' time is usually 10 minutes, if that.
It can be hard sometimes for her to stay focused on eating — we have a dog and she gets more excited about feeding her — so I'll sometimes eat at the kitchen counter behind her so my daughter can't see me. That seems to weirdly help her focus on eating instead of throwing food on the floor for the dog. In terms of meal suggestions, I make sure that before I leave for work in the morning I know what I'm doing for dinner. She and I get hangry around 5:30 p.m., so I can't be scrambling for food. My most useful trick? Shoveling food into my mouth before the nanny leaves. That way, when we sit together for dinner I can really focus on her and not be hungry myself." — Rebecca Brown
Have a designated family dinner night once a week.
"When my boys were younger, I was adamant that at least one parent sat with them for dinner. I'd get home from work between 6 and 6:30 p.m., and spend at least 30 minutes stuck in the kitchen while they complained they were starving. We were all miserable by the time they ate!
Finally, I decided to switch it up. I had the nanny make them dinner and have it ready when I got home. Then I'd put it on plates and sit with them while they ate so we could have a relaxing meal. I was starving, but at least I was sitting with them and hearing about their days. My husband and I would then just eat a late dinner when he got home.
In my household, Sunday night is family dinner night. Everyone eats one meal, we discuss the week ahead, and figure out which parent is taking which kid where. No electronics are allowed, though sometimes we do bring the calendar to the table!" — Rebecca Gruber
Don't look at family meals as such a formal matter; it'll take the pressure off.
"We decided way before the kids came along that we'd insist on family dinner every night. Fifteen years later and we're still doing it, although we sometimes call a 'free for all' night now that everyone is older and can somewhat cook for themselves.
I try to plan meals ahead of time, but when I forget, the fastest thing to whip up is spaghetti. I take a day every couple of months to do up huge batches of homemade spaghetti sauce that go into the freezer. It's fast to defrost and cook. Dinner is the only meal I absolutely insist we have together. It's important to have that family time and decompress together, even if it's only for fifteen minutes." — Sandy Rogers
Don't stress out about it too much, especially if your partner has a crazy schedule.
"My son Gabe is still too young to really eat dinner with us, but I remember my family always eating together growing up. My mom only worked part-time, which definitely helped, but we would literally have dinner at 5 p.m. every night to accommodate all of our activities! She'd plan it so we were sitting down to eat as soon as my dad strolled in from work. Then I'd have to go back to school for choir practice. Now that I have a baby, my hope is to have something similar, but the truth is that my husband travels all week, so family dinner will be a weekend thing and the rest of the week will be a free for all!" — Amanda Murray