With the beginning of a new school year, I am crazy busy again.  It’s getting harder to carve out time to make and eat family meals with my boys.  Often it is easier, more convenient or necessary to eat on the go or to eat separate meals.  Yet, as I get busier and more distracted with outside concerns, I believe the need for family meals grows.  Family meals are one of the ways my family stays connected.  They are a constant, reliable part of my children’s lives.  My boys know that even if mommy is busy, I still will sit down with them to eat most of our meals together.  I will give them my undivided and hopefully positive attention as they talk about concrete mixers again (and again and again . . .).  This need for consistency grows even stronger as we are pulled in so many directions.

Aidan enjoys family meals.

As I try to align my busy life with my values, here are some things I am learning.

1.) If we skip a family dinner, it’s extra important to have time to talk about our days and our dreams during our bedtime rituals.  I try to start getting ready for bed earlier so we have plenty of time to talk about the things we saw or did during the day while we have our nightly thanksgiving and good nights.

2.) There’s nothing sacred about dinners when it comes to family meals.  If I know we won’t be eating together in the evening because the boys will be having a picnic dinner out of their lunch boxes at the Cub Hub while I study next door in the computer room, then that is the perfect day to make cottage cheese pancakes together for breakfast.  It might involve getting up a little earlier, but it’s a special time to connect before heading out the door, and that’s a real treat in our house!

3.) I can re-invent what a family meal looks like. Yes, most days I want the more traditional sit-down dinner with meat loaf, green beans and mashed potatoes, but if I can’t put this together because we have gotten home too late, I can still shun take-out and opt for cold cereal and bananas, yogurt, or pineapple and cottage cheese.  As long as we eat together and the food choices are healthy, adding real flexibility to my meal choices reduces stress!

4.)  A snack together is better than nothing.  This summer I always took peanut butter sandwiches to the pool because my boys would be famished when we got out of the water and because it made showering and dressing much easier. When we got home, I pulled out a pre-made salad for myself, plus some cut-up fruit and milk.  The boys would finish their dinner while I ate mine – a satisfying, if not short, compromise to not having a full meal together.

5.) Keep it simple and ask the boys to help.  One of the reasons I like cooking with my kids so much is that we really bond and enjoy each other during this time.  Adding more ways to have fun together in the kitchen and at the dinner table, makes it easier to stay committed to family meals.  Hopefully, as they grow more skilled in cooking, setting the table and washing the dishes, it will also lighten my load and make it easier for me to keep family meals a priority.

Do you have other ways you stay committed to family meals when your schedule heats up?  Please share in the comment section.  I’d love to have more ideas!