Family dinners are linked to improved diet and improved emotional health.

Study after study reveals what our grandparents knew: the importance of family dinners. In fact, many studies reference family dinner attendance as a key factor in how happy a family is. A study from the University of Florida illustrated just exactly how a family dinner affects a family:

  • Families that eat dinner together are more likely to have healthier diets: families who regularly ate dinner together consumed more servings of fruits and vegetables and dietary fiber than families that ate separately.
  • Children experience less psychological problems (i.e. less emotional distress)
  • Children in families that regularly eat dinner together had more positive peer relationships and were less likely to engage in risky behaviors or hold negative peer relationships
  • Increased communication between family members
  • Overall more emotional stability in the family
  • Better school performance and higher self-esteem

But… they’re not always so easy to pull off.

The research clearly shows just how beneficial family dinners are, but it’s not always easy to gather around the table. Between hectic schedules, extracurricular activities, and the end-of-the-day meltdowns, dinner is often one of the loudest, craziest, exhausting, and emotionally draining times of the day.

It seems that as soon as I declare that I am headed to the kitchen to make dinner, someone poops his diaper, someone else begins to whine that he’s hungry, there’s a small human clinging to my leg and begging to be held, and I just remembered that I didn’t thaw the chicken yet. It seems counterproductive to go through all the hassle only to end up grumpy and sweaty at the dinner table.

7 tips for making it to the family dinner table more often and with less stress. 

Use these tips and you’ll be sure to make it to the family table more often and with less stress.

1. Set it and forget it if you can. 

If you know that you’ll be getting home late, try a crock pot recipe. Set it up in the morning and you’ll have dinner ready the minute you get home.

2. Meal plan.

Not only does meal planning make your grocery shopping more efficient, but you’ll save money too because if you have a plan, you’re less likely to just throw stuff in the cart. When you know what you’re making, dinner is less stressful. No more last minute wondering what to throw together.

3. Give small tasks to your littlest children. 

Little ones can fetch milk from the fridge or beans from the pantry, stir a batter, open a new package of butter, or even set the table. All of these are easy for small children and helps them feel involved.

4. Give age-appropriate tasks to older children.

Once you’ve taught your child to properly use a knife, let them chop veggies. Not only will this help you get dinner on the table faster, but it gives you ample time to chat with your son or daughter about his/her day.

5. Choose recipes carefully.

A common dinner battle centers on the dish itself. If you know your children truly do not like Thai food, skip it. If you’re not short on time, whip up an alternative for kids who don’t like the spiciness. For instance, keep the sauce of a stir-fry and let each family member have the choice to ladle on the sauce or forgo it.

6. Everyone helps clear the table.

Assign everyone one task for cleanup and the after-dinner cleaning will go by much quicker. You’re more likely to eat together if the clean-up isn’t a time-consuming task for one parent every night.

7. Prepare for picky eaters.

Fighting a picky eater is just a recipe for disaster. According to a study in the scientific journal Appetite, researchers continue to point out that picky eating is normal. In fact, up to 39 percent of kids are labled as “picky eaters” at some point in their childhood, although most pickiness starts to decline by age 6. So what to do until then? Try never to yell or fight about food; check out these tips for handing picky eating with respect.

What is one way you make family dinners a priority? How do you get to the table without feeling stressed? Share your secrets in the comments.

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