A healthy family dinner doesn't mean you have to make a meal from scratch every night. Do what you can with the time you have. Family dinner is about family time, not a super healthy gourmet meal. Keep your cooking method simple and save yourself time in the kitchen. Being organized will help. Cook big batches of a dish that freezes well on the weekend and store in individual portions in the freezer. Defrost, and you'll have a night off cooking and a homecooked meal. For busy nights, stock up on prepakaged but healthy family sized meals like taco kits or boxed soups.
Drop any idealistic notions you might have of what the perfect family dinner should look like. For example, if everyone happens to be together at 4:30 and the kids have activities in the evening, eat at 4:30. If not, have a late dinner at 8. Do what works, and don't feel guilty if dinner doesn't go down until 9 for some unexpected reason. If everyone is at the table and gets fed, then you've accomplished a lot more than a lot of families. That being said, don't get hung up on the idea that dinner needs to be the meal your family eats together. There's no reason not to substitute a family lunch or breakfast instead if that works better for your crew.
Trying to ignore your kid's picky tendencies by telling them to eat what they're given won't make anyone's life any easier. Not everyone has to eat everything the same way. Choose meals that can be broken down into components that kids can select from. For example, slice chicken and serve separate from caesar salad or bread. Or, separate roasted vegetables from pasta and parmesan cheese. Having options will reduce the anxiety of a picky palate and make sure everyone eats with minimal complaining.
A sure fire way to reduce chaos is to keep kids engaged. On nights when you're not rushing, get the kids as involved as possible. If their old enough, give them pre-meal tasks like setting the table or mixing ingredients. Give the meal an interactive component. You can't make a pizza or create a taco bar every night, but you can chop up veggie skewers and pita chips serve with a few different dips in the middle of the table. Declare a "themed dinner night" on a shoestring and play music from the country of the cuisine you choose. (Pair spaghetti with some crooners like Pavarotti or Dean Martin and yell out Mangia! whenever you feel like it). It's all about simple ways to make dinner feel fun.
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