As the summer comes to a close and we get ready to turn off vacation mode and prepare for back to school, it can be hard to set aside special time for family bonding. When things get busy, sometimes the most we can do is get dinner on the table before running out to the next appointment or practice.
But before everything gets too rushed (and even if it already is) take advantage of one of these tips for turning meal preparation into the bonding time your kids (or spouse) really need. Get them talking about their day, or simply spend time close to them. Believe it or not, these simple tips can actually save you time too!
- Let them pick out a side: Letting your kids pick the whole meal might leave you with ice cream for dinner, but allowing them to choose a healthy side allows them to spend time with you while feeling involved in their food choices. To avoid too much chaos, give them a variety to choose from. Think bread, finger vegetables like carrots and sliced cucumber, or fun starches like macaroni and mashed potatoes.
- Give them a fun task: Most kids put up a fight when you ask them to set the table, even if it’s just paper plates and forks. Instead, have them do something that feels a little more involved. Ask them to wash the vegetables or stir the noodles. If they’re older, have them slice bread or prepare the salad. Mixing up the responsibilities keeps them interested, and keeps you from having to do all the work alone.
- Create a food schedule: Kids feel comfortable with routine, and if you have a picky eater in the family this strategy prevents surprises. Set aside a little time once a week or once a month to plan out a meal schedule and let everyone join in. Have a set day for each person’s favorite meal, that way no one feels left out. This method helps you plan out your grocery list and saves time at meal preparation.
- Make grocery shopping a game: Sometimes leaving the kids at home while you shop just isn’t an option, but bringing them through the aisles doesn’t have to be a painful chore. Include them on what you need to buy and in each aisle or section tell them what you are searching for. Whoever finds it first wins. You can include rules about not moving too far away from you and the cart. Grocery shopping will go by much faster with this method, plus it keeps the kids distracted from all the sugary items they usually grab.
- Have them make dinner: This is obviously not the choice for parents with toddlers, but if your kids are in their early to mid-teens, having them make dinner (with your supervision) can be a great experience. Make it a monthly or weekly routine and have all the ingredients and the recipes at hand. Pasta is easy, and so is homemade pizza.