I never thought it would be so hard to get my family to gather around the dinner table, but between work, extracurricular activities and appointments, we often find ourselves struggling to sit together at the dinner table as a family, especially as my children get older.
Making Meals a Priority
I want to share some ideas for making family meals a priority, but in a perhaps less traditional way. Here are some strategies we have found to help avoid dining-out expenses during busy family times.
1. Have a plan. One thing that keeps my budget on track and helps prevent the temptation of dining out is to always start the week with a menu plan. Use a calendar to map out dishes for the week and block out ingredient prep time. I base my menu entirely around activities that will be happening each week. I try to plan a minimum of one slow cooker dish, one pot of soup (made on a weekend) and one dish that can be doubled for a leftover night.
2. Make your slow cooker your best friend. Since my children were babies, I have relied on this inexpensive household appliance to get us through the busiest of times. It can help you whip up a weekly pot of chili, a comforting roast, or a hearty stew that your whole family can enjoy, whether around the table or if family members are arriving in shifts. Find a slow cooker that sets itself to warm when a cooking cycle is complete to help foods retain desired temperature, texture and consistency.
3. Adapt to eating on the go. Although we would love to always eat at the dinner table, some days we find ourselves eating on the road while traveling from one activity to another. I have found that packingsandwiches, chips, fresh vegetables and fruit can help us save money while still eating healthily on the road.
Look for inexpensive containers to package lunches, and invest in a good set of water bottles for on-the-go occasions. I love to use coffee filters as snack holders for chips or pretzels because they are easy to hold, and we rely on throwaway containers that can be used often but won’t break the bank if left behind.
4. Make a weekly family night commitment. When I was a child, my parents always made us stay home on Friday night together, that is, until we got too cool to stay home on Fridays. I may be dating myself, but I remember that we loved to watch shows like “Family Matters” and “Full House” on the weekly television lineup, and we always got pizza delivered.
Now that I am a mom, I make sure we share this same type of commitment together. Over the last eight years, I have made pizza for my family every Friday night, and we spend time together around the dinner table. We call the occasion “Docu-Pizza Night” because we try to pair the pizza with a documentary movie that teaches us all something. The evening consists of one pizza, one documentary and one great family conversation afterward. We have exposed the kids to many
different cultures and watched documentaries about everything from the art of origami and puppetry, to a senior citizen dance crew. It has led to amazing discussions and allowed us to use screen time in a way that benefits the whole family.