How many nights last week did your family sit down at the table and eat dinner together?
Ok, so we have all heard or read the studies – children who sit down and have dinner with their families, at least 5 times a week, are significantly less likely to get involved in drugs, drinking alcohol and smoking. Studies have also shown that teens who ate with their families report:
- higher grades in school
- stronger friendships
- better relationships with their parents
It has even been said that consistent family dinners are a greater predictor of future success than high SAT scores!
So with these studies screaming the importance of family dinners (not too mention our gut instinct as Moms telling us that daily sharing a meal together as a family is important), why would any of us not be diligent to be sure that we are making family meals happen regularly? I think that for many it is simply the lack of organization, preparation or time it takes to put a good tasting nutricious meal on the table. We seem to be all running ourselves at such warp speed that by the time dinner rolls around we are too exhausted or too caught up in the upcoming evening activities to make it happen, so we give into everyone just grabbing whatever they can find and eating on the run or in front of the TV or standing over the kitchen counter.
I solved this problem when I was a young Mom with two small children. I was working part time outside of my home and was involved full time with my husband in ministering to teenagers. The girls and I would often arrive home right at dinnertime and I found myself at a loss as to what to make for dinner. It was at this time in my life that I came across the concept of “Once A Month Cooking”. I heard a broadcast on Focus on the Family highlighting Mary-Beth Lagerborg and Mimi Wilson who were passionate about families sharing meals together. The three things that hit me, besides already being sold on the value of sitting down together for a family dinner –
- I would save time and money (both of which I was short on)
- I would never again have to figure out what to have for dinner only to succumb to ordering pizza again or making macaroni and cheese
- I would be able to bless others by always being ready & able to have them join us for dinner or by pulling a meal out of the freezer to give to a family who just had a baby or was in need due to illness, death or financial crisis.
That one radio broadcast ultimately changed my life! From that point in the early 1990’s to this very day I have used the concept of “Once a Month Cooking” (with the exception of several years when we were beginning Jim Elliot Christian High School and relied on the generosity of others and the Lord’s provision for our meals), added my own tweaking and variations and we have enjoyed the benefits of having relatively stress free, no decision making dinners on our table each and every night.
I start by writing out what I want to eat that month – since October usually begins our cooler weather and after long hot summers we are ready for those cool crisp evenings – I always make this month’s menu full of our favorite soups, stews and other warm fall comfort foods. Several of these are in the “Once a Month Cooking” Cookbook and others are our family fall favorites –
- Split Pea Soup
- Chili & Cornbread
- French Stew
- Colonial Cheddar Cheese Soup
- Ravioli Soup
- Taco Soup
- Corn Chowder
- White Chicken Chili
- Potato Soup
I add to that some Lambdin money saving staple meals – beans & rice, spaghetti, sloppy joes, chicken casseroles etc.. Then I make my shopping list and head out to purchase everything I need to make all these meals. My kitchen looks like this when I return from shopping –
It usually takes me about 6 to 7 hours to prepare, cook and put the meals in freezer containers, if I have no help. In the early years, we had a wonderful roommate (Hi Carleen!) who would help me power this out much faster and now when I can get my teenagers to take a study break they will assist me. (sometimes if life is really full, I may even split the preparation into two days)The dishes at the end are horrendous (especially since our dishwasher broke 6 months ago and we do it all by hand) but I remind whomever has kitchen duty chore that it is well worth it in the end! 🙂
Everything is labeled with directions taped on the front and put into the freezer – who would have ever thought that a freezer full of a months worth of meals could bring such fulfillment and joy? (and of course my girls do not get what the big thrill this picture brings me or why I would even take it – something years and becoming a mother will cure.)
I then tape up a calendar on the fridge listing what meal is to be served each day, along with any side dishes and who is “in charge” of getting it all on the table (All the girls ages 9 and older help out as well as Dan). I always leave the last week empty as it is inevitable that plans change or we end up having a “left overs” night along the way – so we just move the unused meal from that day down to the last week.
After that all I have to do is check what meals we are having for the coming week on Monday morning – do a quick store run for perishables like bread, lettuce, fresh vegetables and milk – and we are set!
Here is the book that inspired my life long habit of meal planning for a month and taught me how to plan, shop & cook for a month in a single day –
But don’t be intimidated by the entire month part – if that sounds to overwhelming – how about two weeks or even one? If it is all still too much or you do not want to think about masking a list, shopping and all that prep/clean up time – here is the perfect solution! Companies like “Dinners My Way”(my friend Cres Bruns owns the local franchise) and “Dream Dinners”. are all set up to provide this service. You simply pay for the number of meals you want to make, sign up for a couple hour session and then they provide all the ingredients (already all chopped up, grated, cooked etc….). You make a mess of their kitchen and walk away with meals ready to put in your freezer. The prices are very reasonable and it is super easy. Plus you could go with a friend and even have more fun!
Of course I guess if money was not a consideration, you could hire a private chef to ensure meals served hot on your table every night….now wouldn’t that be awesome?
But whatever you do – begin today to come up with a plan to ensure that you get your family to sit down most days of the week to a wonderful dinner together. I’m off to enjoy some Ravioli Soup around the candlelit dinner table surrounded by lively conversation and laughter.