Where to start when work and activities get in the way of dinner

Eating dinner together as a family is a top priority in my family. Except when I have to work late. Or have a meeting. Or when my kids have soccer practice. Or a band concert. Or a study group. Or a softball game. Or…Well, you get what I’m saying. It’s one thing to WANT to spend time as a family, and quite another thing to actually DO IT. Good intentions and good food can only get us so far when it comes to shared meal times. So what’s a family to do when sports, work, volunteer commitments and music lessons get in the way of family dinner?

  • Make do with who you have. Getting into the habit of eating as a family can be a challenge (for tips about how to do it, check out this article). And it can be tempting to throw in the towel when sports, music and meetings get in the way. But if we do that, it’s just going to be harder to get back on track once schedules ease up. In order to keep good habits going, try eating dinner together – even if you’re missing family members. Maybe it’s just you and the baby, or the kids and the sitter – even if the whole family can’t be around the table, it’s still worth gathering together. You might even find that, over time, your family will adjust their schedules so that they can take part in the mealtime traditions they’ve come to expect.
  • Eat on the run. There’s no rule saying that mealtime has to be around a table. Are your evenings filled with little league games? Tennis matches? Consider packing a simple picnic or car-worthy meal for you and your family before you head out the door, like this Avocado Egg Salad Sandwich. Dinnertime too busy? What about enjoying breakfast or snack time as a family instead? Meals around the pool, the field, or in the school gym can be just as meaningful as those around the dining table.
  • Keep one mealtime sacred. The busyness of life can swoop in and swallow us whole if we’re not careful. Sometimes, it can be useful – and powerful – to take a stand and say “no.” If you are at that point, consider setting aside one mealtime per week that is a non-negotiable. Maybe it’s Monday dinner, Friday lunch or Sunday breakfast. Whatever it is, it can be a transformative act to say: “Tuesday night at 6pm is family mealtime. Unless there’s an emergency, we will all commit to being there and spending time together.”

Research tells us that eating together as a family is one of the most important things we can do for the physical and mental health of our children. Some months will be easier than others. Some years might present real, tiresome struggles. But sharing at least a few meals a week is a worthy goal – and will reap rewards for generations in the future.