3 Biggest Obstacles to Having Family Dinners--Solved

Smart work-arounds for the top reasons families can't plan dinner together

No time for family dinners? Breakfasts count, too!. Getty Images/ONOKY - Eric Audras

You've probably heard about the many benefits of regular family dinners for kids' development and health, such as lower rates of obesity in kids, better academic performance, and even better emotional, behavioral, and mental health. But the reality is that families today are often too busy to sit down and regularly have dinner together during the week. If you find it challenging to find the time or the energy to get everyone around the table for a healthy meal every night, rest assured: Most parents are in a similar boat, and there are ways to work around these challenges that make it difficult to sit down together for a meal with kids.

Read on for some creative and doable solutions for the biggest obstacles to having family dinners more often. With these simple strategies, you'll find more ways to connect to your kids, even if everyone is working with a busy schedule at school, work, and after-school activities.

Challenge # 1: No Time to Cook
If you're usually too busy on weeknights to cook dinner, try to plan menus ahead of time. On the weekends, cook a batch of soup, stew, or something else you can freeze and reheat. Take out can be fine as long as it's healthy, says Lynn Barendsen, executive director of the Family Dinner Project, a nonprofit organization that educates the public about the benefits of family dinners and works to give parents the tools and information to establish regular dinners with their kids. Even cereal is okay for dinner--just be sure to sit down and talk with your kids.

Challenge # 2: Too Many Late Nights.
For some families, having both parents at the dinner table can be a huge challenge if one or both parents work late and don't make it home till after dinnertime.

(And if it's a single-parent household, it can make it that much tougher to schedule regular dinners with kids.) Instead about stressing about the fact that you can't have dinner together every night, start small: Plan two nights a week, with one or both nights being a weekend night if that's easier.

Just as your pediatrician probably told you if you had a picky eater who only ate a few foods, try to see the bigger picture. Look at the whole week, not just at one day, says Barendsen.

Another solution is to make breakfasts your big family meals. Even if you're eating a small healthy breakfast before school and work and don't have time to linger at the table, just having this as a regular routine is an important way to keep connected when family dinners can't be as often as you would like. And remember that  lunches or brunches on the weekends can be treated like a big family meal, too, says Barendsen.

You can also try to have a healthy dessert together on nights when you don't make it home on time for dinner. Sitting down to a plate of fruit and talking over the day is better than nothing on a busy weeknight. And remember that bedtime can also be an opportunity to catch up any conversation you didn't get to have over dinner.

Challenge # 3: After-School Activities That Run Late
If you know that a soccer game is going to cut into dinnertime, or that it'll be too late to eat dinner by the time you get home and that your kids will be starving, bring a picnic, suggests Barendsen.

Eating together and sharing your day--even if it's a sandwich and apples--is what counts. Where you eat and what you eat--as long as it's healthy--is less important than the fact that you and your kids are spending time together over a meal.

The key thing to remember is that the where and how and what you eat is secondary to the connection you establish when you eat regularly with kids. By setting this important routine, you'll set your kids on a course to healthy and happy development benefits that will last him his whole life.

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