This summer, we’ve been sharing lots of back-to-school dinner advice. We started with expert tips on helping the whole family with the adjustment of this longest back-to-school season, then shared a wealth of low-cook, low-clean, low-stress dinner ideas you can use on busy nights. Now, with the first day of school either already here or coming closer for most families, we know we can’t be the only ones thinking about all the ways in which this school year will be much different from the last. How can we all look ahead to the new year and build — or rebuild — our back-to-school dinner habits in a way that works for our families?
In collaboration with our friends at Making Caring Common, we included questions on a survey looking at how families across the country changed their mealtime practices during the pandemic and what changes, if any, they plan to hold onto as COVID restrictions ease. The full report on the research results will be available soon, but some of the preliminary findings are interesting as we look ahead to this school year.
We asked families: “Thinking about the changes that you made to mealtimes during the pandemic, what mealtime routines do you want to keep after the pandemic is over?”
53% of respondents said they had made changes due to COVID that they’d like to keep this school year — which means that just about half of families may be looking to do school year dinners a bit differently than they ever have before. Here are the main ways in which families reported wanting to maintain positive changes:
Of course, there are also the other 47% of families, who don’t plan to change their mealtime habits this school year. Does that mean family dinner is a flop for almost half of American households? Far from it. For most of the people who fell into this half of our respondents, the pandemic simply didn’t have much of an impact on their family dinners. “My family eats together every night before, during, and will continue to after the pandemic” represents a common response to our question. Another variation on the “nothing much changed for us” idea highlights the fact that not every family was actually able to change their routines and stay home last year. “To be honest, not much changed for us. My work continued in person and most places we eat at were still open at lower capacity.”
Still, there are a few things about family dinner during the pandemic that some of these families would rather not repeat. Most notably, there are plenty of families who can’t wait to get back to eating out this year: “The only change I made was not going to restaurants. Definitely don’t want to continue that.” “I plan to cook much less after all this is over.” And for some people, this school year might be a welcome relief and a chance for absence to make the heart grow fonder: “I would rather family not feel forced to meet because of the pandemic. I want them to actually want to spend time together, as opposed to being forced to do it.”
Whether you’re in the half of families who want to make continued improvements at mealtimes, or the half who don’t plan to change, setting up the habits you want for your family this school year is important. We’ve got some great ideas and advice to help you do that:
It’s going to be hard for everyone to get back into “normal” (or near-normal) routines after the last school year. Be intentional about the habits you’d like to build, let go of what doesn’t work for you, and give yourself — and your family members — the gift of grace and patience. We can do this!
As school year schedules start to return, slow cookers are going to make a comeback in kitchens across the country. Try this Dijon Chicken from our friends at the Zen of Slow Cooking!
Slow Cooker Herbed Dijon Chicken
Whether you’re eating together or having to scatter for school year dinners, the Jar of Good Things can provide a way to stay connected.
We worked with our friends at The Resilience Project to come up with an ultimate list of questions you can ask this back-to-school season.
2023 The Family Dinner Project