I’m perfectly willing to admit that my home life is sometimes a mess. Because of my youngest daughter’s cerebral palsy, we spend hours each week at physical, occupational, and speech therapy. I spend each week in lengthy psychotherapy sessions for my borderline personality disorder, and my husband has regular appointments with his primary care doctor and various specialists to help manage his diabetes, sleep apnea, and other health conditions. While our house is never clean and we’re always on the go, one thing I insist on is that we always sit for family dinner.
I feel like that precious time together at the dinner table not only helps us all stay connected, but it also provides some semblance of normalcy in our otherwise chaotic lives. However, I don’t always have time to play Suzy Homemaker, so we utilize some unconventional methods to pull off our nightly family dinners. Here are four tricks I’ve learned that help my family stay connected through family dinner time:
1. Utilize Countertop Appliances
One of the easiest ways to avoid slaving away in the kitchen for hours is by using some of the great countertop appliances that are now available. On days when I work out of the house and my daughter has afternoon therapy appointments, I start a crock pot meal that morning. When I’m really strapped for time, I discovered that some grocery stores even carry pre-constructed crock pot meals in their refrigerated or frozen sections. I also love our Instant Pot and air fryer.
2. Consider A Meal Delivery Service
Another way to save time and energy can be to simply have your food delivered to you. While many grocery stores now offer curbside options, that still doesn’t help you save time once you get the groceries home. Since I work part-time out of the house in addition to managing my child’s care, I don’t have time to always sit and hunt for new recipes or find ways to spice up our weekly meals. With meal delivery services, though, they provide all the ingredients pre-portioned, plus the recipes are easy to follow. Although you may think that these subscriptions will strain your finances, there are actually several affordable services out there for family dinner.
3. Plan Some Cold Meals
Sometimes cooking just isn’t possible at all. For example, we have an hour commute to my daughter’s neurologist, not to mention the amount of time we spend waiting (they’re always running behind). On days like that, or days where my daughter is just struggling, I cannot dedicate the time to making a hot meal. So, we always have a few meals on hand that require less than 5 minutes to prepare. Whether it’s sandwiches, salads, or even something a little more involved, it’s nice to have quick meals for a family dinner that aren’t through the drive-thru.
4. Prep Ahead
One of the best ideas my husband and I had since my daughter’s diagnosis is to preemptively plan out our week each Sunday. We roll through the list of appointments and obligations, then determine meals that best work for each day. We sometimes plan larger, more elaborate meals for evenings where we have more free time so that there are leftovers for the very busy next day. Other times, we plan meals where the prep work can be done the night before on days where we will only have time to quickly throw something into the oven or Instant Pot. I feel that taking the time to plan ahead has really helped us make healthier meals and kept us from spending our entire paycheck eating out.
Now, although these tips are all wonderful, we’re not perfect by any means. We still eat out at least a couple times each month, and that’s okay. The important part for me will always be making sure that I’m feeding my family and that meal time is about connecting and sharing with one another. I hope that as my children grow, they find that our dinners were meaningful, even if we just ate ham sandwiches and sliced fruit some nights. Because often those dinners together are what keep me sane.
Also Published on The Mighty