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 that this is the month when the temperatures cool down, but 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, we all know that 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 that 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 out our meal planning article for some extra help, or if you’re the techie type, try using an app like Ziplist or Paprika to help you stay organized.
Learn to make five fallback meals.
The “good enough” dinner 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 that’s 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 our 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.
Of course, food’s only the first step! Fun and conversation are also essential ingredients to a great family dinner. Don’t forget to check out our dinner games and conversation starters to help make the dinner table a place where everyone wants to be this fall.