There are so many benefits to a family meal — it gives parents and children time to joke, chat and exchange news; it allows everyone to eat mindfully and well; it offers a moment of peace; and it can be the best way to uphold traditions. The point of a family meal is to get everyone around the table without much stress and anxiety.
One of the biggest reasons why family meals have become rare and people are afraid of reviving them is that it can be intimidating to even think about pulling them off.
How will two working spouses match their schedules? How will they make sure that the kids are not distracted or annoyed or annoying? And how on earth do you even start this whole thing off before it becomes a routine?
When I discuss this with my family, friends and team, the key to a successful family meal seems to lie in two things — planning ahead, and keeping it simple. Let’s face it — it is unrealistic to imagine that you’re going to go from zero family meals a week to seven dinners spent around the table, laughing and chatting. Start by setting an achievable goal — I recommend picking something on the weekend, like a Sunday brunch or lunch. This will make it easy for you to shop for groceries and cook. Because of course you need to cook the meal at home!
Make the prep of the meal a family activity, too. Involve everyone in choosing the menu. Take your kids shopping, and let them choose their favourite ingredients — this is also a great way to introduce them to produce and educate them about what goes into the food they eat. Make it fun by setting a challenge — for example, for every five healthy items they pick, they get to choose one treat.
As you cook the meal, put some music on, get everyone in the kitchen and assign duties — the whole exercise should not be one parent’s responsibility! It might be nice to get some flowers on the table and use nice crockery and cutlery. Make an occasion of it, but don’t turn the television on, please. That would completely ruin the point of this get-together.
When the weekend meal becomes a non-negotiable part of your routine, start making one weeknight dinner a family meal. Here are five tips that will set you on your way:
- The most important first step is to keep your kitchen stocked with healthy ingredients at all times. This means that you make a master-list of grains, lentils, vegetables, oils, fruits, lean meats, nuts and seeds, spices and condiments that you need to make balanced meals. Check your kitchen every weekend, and restock as needed.
- Every weekend, plan your menu for the coming week. List everything from breakfast to snacks. Make sure you’re stocked. Ask your cook, or another staff member, to chop fruit and vegetables that you can store in airtight containers in the fridge for two days. If you don’t have help in the kitchen, make it a family activity — turn on your favourite music, and get it done! A third, quick and easy option is to invest in a chopping machine.
- Keep spice pastes handy. If there is a wet or dry masala mix that you use often, make enough for it to last you the week and store in an airtight container in the fridge. This cuts down your cooking time.
- Make components of meals ahead of time. For example, you can cook dal the previous night and store in the fridge. All you need to do in the morning is add the tadka. Rice can also be made ahead of time, and if you have a slow-cooker, that’s even better.
- Make one change and sustain it for three weeks, before you make the next change. If it is not working for you and your family, move on. Don’t force yourself to do anything you don’t think you can sustain.
As the family meal evolves, use it as an opportunity to make traditions. Does your family love biryani? Make that a Sunday lunch tradition, and add some healthy sides like salads and soups. Start the meal with a delicious juice that’s good for you, and try minimising deep-fried and sweet items, except rarely.
Use the weeknight meals to offer a break from your regular menu, which is possible if you plan ahead. As all of you gather around the table to eat a meal that you’ve all made together, you are creating memories that you will cherish for years to come. And that’s worth everything. n
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