Aug 02, 2023

Holland: Meal time can mean together time

Teresa Holland

“What’s for dinner?”

That again? Do you sometimes feel you are running out of options… or more likely, out of time in the day? You are not alone. Many rush home at the end of the day absolutely tired, but still need to put food on the table for the family, or maybe yet just pick up fast food on the way home. Even better, make tonight our ‘eat out’ night. How far do we have to drive? What needs to be done to get ready for tomorrow before bedtime? Ugh, sound familiar?

For centuries people across the world have gotten together to share meals, especially families. Yes, everyone needs food to stay healthy. However, there are many other benefits to being together at mealtimes. Trying to get everyone together at the same time, though, can be hit or miss. It can even be trickier to be at the table face-to-face when screens of all sizes dominate many facets of modern life.

Fixing a meal can be a challenge at the end of the day when your energy level has been totally zapped. Even with inflation and the cost of groceries rising, it has been reported that many American families now spend as much on restaurant food as they spend on groceries. While it can be fun for the family to dine out, there are clearly some benefits to just eating together even at home, besides saving money.

Research has shown that being together during meals, even if not for all of them, can lead to closer relationships among family members. This can be a welcoming time to just talk about the day’s events while catching up with one another. Families that eat together also tend to have healthier eating habits, higher self-esteem, and earn higher grades at school.

But how do we make this happen without setting ourselves up for frustration? It’s more about the quality of the time and just being together. Maybe dinner time is too hard, breakfast never happens or is on the run, and lunch is at school or work. But being flexible and even having a regular light snack before bedtime such as hot chocolate can become a special time together. The key is just to keep togetherness a priority in your lives, but individualized for what fits you and your family.

Many find cooking very enjoyable, but now it becomes a chore when you’re short on time. However, there are a number of ways to help lighten the load of making a meal the family will enjoy.

An Instant Pot or Crockpot can help shorten the time involved in preparing a meal. Some people have found success with batch prepping meals on their day off and freezing them so they can be reheated later. I recently found that making meatballs in the oven and freezing them for later is amazingly easy. Meal kit delivery services can save time and can be affordable, especially with a coupon.

Something that can make a simple meal special is to have everyone help while having fun. Maybe on pizza night everyone makes their own little pizza by topping a mini store-bought pizza crust or English muffin with their favorite toppings that you can just pop into the oven. Everyone can be their own picky eater while fixing it just how they want. Okay, no onions on the pizza. Works for me too.

So, what’s for dinner? Well, tonight it should be done when I get home. It’s in the Crockpot. Then we can sit down, eat, enjoy, and catch up on the day.

Teresa Holland is a guest columnist, writer, and retired advanced-practice registered nurse. Send comments to [email protected].