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Newsletter: August 2021

The Back-to-School Dinner Habits You Want This Year

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:

  • “I want to keep the frequency of meals, how meals are prepared, and how we connect at the table.” Many families spent last school year eating together more often than before, and would like to try to make that a habit.
  • “I plan to eat out less, and more at home. My family will likely follow suit for our health, as we found over the pandemic that it was easier to be healthy if we ate at home, and avoided eating junk food as we used to do before the pandemic.” Others discovered that being less busy could contribute to more home cooking, and better eating habits overall.
  • “I love eating dinner at the table more now. Life slowed down a lot during the pandemic and it was kind of nice for all of us to be together each night. I want to keep this.” For some families, it wasn’t just the frequency of dinners, but the ability to really enjoy each other’s company and bond more strongly as a family. A number of respondents said they wanted to keep the sense of closeness they’d developed during the pandemic.
  • “Still have dinners together over zoom with people who are far away from us geographically.” The ability to stay connected with faraway friends and family was a bright spot of the pandemic for some families, who reported wanting to expand their dinner habits to include regular online meals with loved ones.

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:

  • “As the school year really gets underway, pace yourself. Some of us have learned during the pandemic that we were too busy. We can be reflective around our values, and reassess and reorganize things.” Dr. Khadijah Watkins from the MGH Clay Center shares her best advice for parents on re-establishing routines and dealing with post-pandemic stresses this back-to-school season.
    How to Return to a Back-to-School Routine
  • Be committed; be prepared; be flexible! Our Tips for Busy Families are just right for a back-to-school reset.
    Tips for Busy Families
  • Planning to get back in the habit of eating in shifts on busy nights? Master the Split Shift Family Dinner with our guide.
    Mastering the Split Shift Family Dinner
  • Need a little meal planning inspiration? Try these different hacks that make meal planning a breeze, even for the least organized among us.
    Meal Planning Hacks for Busy Families

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.

The Jar of Good Things


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.

Resilience Building Back-to-School Questions