As parents we try to do our best, but sometimes hectic schedules and busy weeks get in the way of us being able to wear that ‘super parent’ cape every day, dutifully serving-up healthy home cooked meals for the whole family. This isn’t taking into account after school activities, endless birthday parties or our own work commitments – all of which eat into the amount of time we spend eating together as a family.
The traditional family dinner was once the cornerstone of most UK households but with jam-packed days and busy workloads there’s no question that finding time to sit down as a family isn’t what it used to be. From the families I speak to, it’s not that we place less of an importance on eating together; we simply don’t have the opportunity to get everyone together on a regular basis. But eating together shouldn’t be a luxury.
Generally, when we think about the health benefits of mealtimes, we typically consider what we should or should not be eating. Yet, whilst super-nutritious mealtimes are an absolute must, sharing good food at the dinner table has boundless benefits. For everyone of all ages, gathering at the dining table boosts our wellbeing and lifts our mood. It’s an opportunity to build family bonds, share stories and learn from each other including how to conduct conversations, observe good manners, serve others, listen and compromise.
Offering children the opportunity to share in balanced wholesome mealtimes can also help stave off unhealthy eating habits in the future. There is, of course, no guarantee that the simple act of eating at home surrounded by family will completely fend off the development of unhealthy lifestyles or make them more socially responsible, but it lays the groundwork for a lot of things that point them in the right direction.
My main piece of advice is – don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you’re starved for time to eat together then look at ways you can reduce your time spent in the kitchen. One-pot meals are fantastic and mean you’re not having to prepare more than one dish.
My One Pot Chicken recipe is a great example. You literally throw everything into one big dish and it pretty much fends for itself in the oven until its ready to be served. Or cook a double batch of Cottage Pie, my Coconut Milk Chicken Curry or a versatile tomato sauce over the weekend when you might have a bit more time and then freeze portions for midweek dinners in minutes.
Making the time for the whole family to eat together is applicable to all – from tots to teens, to grown-ups. From my own experience, I find out more about what my children are up to and how they are feeling when we sit down and share a meal together than at any other time. And whether we’re catching-up, debating (or at times disagreeing!) it’s time that brings us together.
Let’s face it, gathering at the dinner table seven days a week is near on impossible but here are a couple of top tips to help your family fit it in:
- Try and stick to family tea at least once a week –there is no magic number but if you aim for at least two to three family meals a week then you’re on the right track. To make the most of these occasions, try to ensure that everyone gets the chance to talk and join in the conversation. You could also let the children choose the menu. It will make them feel included and make it a lot easier in encouraging them to sit down at the dinner table (and hopefully eat their dinner!)
- Tailor mealtimes to your family – it might be that breakfast or weekend lunches are slightly easier to bring the troops together – it’s all about figuring out how to fit in with your family’s routine.
Annabel’s brand new Real Food Kids Will Love cookbook (out on 28th June) is packed full of advice, top tips and over 100 simple and delicious recipes which the whole family can enjoy together – from 15 minute meals to healthy fast food favourites, cooking with the kids, lunchbox snacks and more.
Many recipes include handy swap-outs to cater for those with food allergies, intolerances or particularly fussy eaters! There is also a range of meat-free and vegan meal options too, meaning mealtimes can be made healthy and fun for the whole family whatever your family’s foodie preferences.