Ah, dinnertime. Is it a peaceful time of family bonding where everyone is gratefully enjoying a nutritious meal that mom carefully prepared? If yes, well, I offer you sincere congratulations (and skepticism). For the rest of us, I’d say, that statement feels far off and a little silly. Often, dinner time can feel thrown together and chaotic. In my head, I want it to be a time of meaningful connection but often it is just something to get through before bedtime. But, with a couple of tricks up our sleeves and winning meals in our back pockets, I do think dinnertime can become at least a little more enjoyable.
I have three simple tips for you that can help improve dinnertime. These aren’t magical or maybe even revolutionary, but give it some time and I think you’ll notice a difference!
- Light a candle. This is so simple, but about a year ago we started lighting a candle every evening at dinner. I think we first started in the winter when the evening felt long, but now it’s a nightly habit. I find that the simplicity of a flickering candle sets the evening meal apart and makes things feel cozy. Think about going to a restaurant and how a small candle on the table sets the tone for a nice meal. You can do the thing same at home even if the food is macaroni and cheese! Make sure to get a non-scented candle so we aren’t mixing fragrance smells with food. I have found great ones at the farmer’s market or a cheaper option at Trader Joe’s. Of course, there may be times when kids bicker a little over who gets to light the candle or who blows it out, but after this becomes a normalized habit every night, you won’t have to worry about that.
- Share highlights and lowlights of the day. When I lived with a family in college, I learned about the nightly family ritual of having everyone share a highlight and lowlight from the day. It’s an easy, low-pressure way to feel more connected to each other. It is helpful because it’s more specific than “how was your day?” It also gives space for anyone to share something hard and usually leads to further conversation. For little ones, I’ve found this is a great way to help them process their day, as at first, they may not even remember what they did. Even our two-year-old now likes to share her highlight and lowlight.
- Have your kids help prepare the meal. I don’t often have the patience to let my kids help with the actual cooking part of dinner prep, but when I do, they really love it and often eat better! Beyond that, I do ask them to set the table with napkins, utensils, and ice water as well as clear their dishes afterward. I find that these small chores help teach them ownership and also helps me not to feel like I am doing everything. I never want my kids to see me as someone who is overburdened because I didn’t ask for help! Even little ones can help with simple tasks like these.
Additionally, dinner always goes more smoothly when the meal served is something that most everyone will eat without complaining. Don’t get me wrong, I do not always cater to what my kids will eat and I often encourage them to try new things. But also, I want to keep the peace as much as I can. So, here are three simple yet healthy meals my family will eat without any complaints!
- Change Your Life Chicken. Have you eaten this?! If not, please put it on your menu ASAP. This sheet pan meal is easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. Essentially, you’re cooking bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs over your choice of vegetables. Don’t be scared of the high heat! It’s what gets the skin to that delicious crisp. We like potatoes, red onion, green beans, and jalapeños. You need this recipe in your life!
- Kielbasa with white rice and roasted broccoli. This meal is so easy and really delicious. Costco has our favorite Beef Kielbasa and we just throw it on a pan with broccoli florets and roast until everything is browned and slightly crisp. Add some butter and white rice and you’re good to go. If you want to get fancy, yet still simple, make a dijon vinaigrette to drizzle on top of everything. Chef’s kiss!!
- Barbecue chicken thighs with sweet potatoes and “salad bar salad”. Throw some chicken thighs or breasts into a casserole pan and cover it with your favorite barbecue sauce. Cook at 325 degrees for 2 hours until the meat easily shreds. You can also do this in your crock pot! Bake some sweet potatoes and serve with desired toppings plus the meat on top (or white potatoes for the pickier kiddos). For your salad, chop the following: romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, crispy bacon, cucumber, red onion, and green olives if you like them. Put these in bowls as well as shredded cheddar cheese, sunflower seeds, and croutons. Let your family put what they want of these items in their salad bowls and add your favorite dressing. I love Trader Joe’s Vegan Ranch or a simple balsamic vinaigrette. Yes, you’re doing a bit of chopping, but with the ease of the chicken and potatoes, it won’t feel like a big deal.
- Korean Beef Bowls. This is so simple but the flavors are incredible! I like to add some sautéed green beans or spinach the side for our veggie. Makes for great leftovers as well!