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Creating a family meal time

Abbi Perets lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and five children.






Find time for family meals

What's it like at dinnertime in your house? Does anyone sit down to eat, or do people wander through, grabbing what they want from the fridge and rushing off to activities? Although it might seem impossible to gather everyone around the table on a nightly basis, research overwhelmingly indicates that the effort pays off.

Family Meal at Dinner Table

In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that teens who don't participate in regular family dinners are three and a half times more likely to abuse prescription drugs or an illegal drug other than marijuana. Girls who eat five times a week or more with their families are 33% less likely to develop unhealthy eating habits such as skipping meals or full-fledged anorexia.

So how can you put these statistics on your side and start counting your kids among the lucky ones? In five simple steps, you can establish a meal routine that works for your family.

First, you and your partner need to decide to commit to a family meal time. Can't get your spouse to see why it matters? There's plenty of evidence available to make your case for family meals. Share some of this information, and there's a good chance your spouse will get on board. Still no luck? Start without your spouse. Just start serving dinner every night, and require the kids to be there. Let nature take its course.

Next, involve the kids in the planning. Even if family meals have never been a part of your routine, sit everyone down and explain that you're making a change -- and tell them why. Work together to figure out what time dinner will be on the table, and what that means for everyone. Who will set the table? Who will clear dishes? Plan the details.

What's in it for them? Kids -- and spouses -- will be much more amendable if they see the benefits of the plan. Announce that each person gets to dictate the menu for one night of the week -- as long as they eat everyone else's choices without complaint. Make a habit of trying new foods along with family favorites. And let everyone know that there's always a PB&J sandwich as a backup if they really hate what's being served.

Be flexible. Dinner gets a lot of attention as the family meal, but it's not the only option. If dinner together just won't work with sports, extracurriculars, and work schedules, consider a family breakfast. Yes, it might mean getting up a little earlier, but much of the prep can be done the night before. And imagine how great it will feel to know that you've sent your family -- and yourself -- out into the world with the most important meal of the day in your belly.

Plan ahead whenever possible. Set your meal plan weekly and post it on the fridge. Make a lit of all the prep work involved, and see what can be done ahead of time. Get to know your crockpot. Freeze casseroles on the weekends, or make double portions of your favorite meals and freeze half. You'll discover that you quickly find your rhythm, and dinner will be something you look forward to.

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