When it comes to making family dinner, don’t try to be a hero. Take the shortest, fastest route to that family meal.
Here are some shortcuts family dinner researchers have learnt from parents:
1. Homemade is relative
Store-bought prepared foods can be a huge help in getting family dinner on the table. Rotisserie chickens can be served a variety of ways throughout the week. Pre-cut vegetables and salad kits save time. You can find healthy frozen pizzas and chicken bites, add some salad and fruit, and get a fun dinner on the table in a hurry. “There’s no magic in making everything from scratch,” notes Anne Fishel. “That’s not where the power of family dinner comes from.”
2. Freeze everything
Every time you make a batch of lasagne or a bowl of chilli, make a second batch and freeze it for later.
3. Weekend cooking
Use weekends and downtime to chop and cook vegetables, boil and refrigerate pasta, make a casserole or grill some chicken. It will take the stress out of getting family dinner on the table during the working week.
4. Meal swaps
During their work with the Family Dinner Project, Harvard researchers talked to military families who often cope with extended absences of one spouse. One strategy was to form a “dinner swap” of five families.
Each family would cook five batches of a favourite meal, keeping one and giving the other four to members of the group. After the swap, you’ve got five fully prepared meals, and you only had to make one of them. If you can’t organise five families, just try to find one friend who wants to do a meal swap.
Tara Parker-Pope is the founding editor of Well, an award- winning consumer health site with news and features to help readers live well every day. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.