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Just four things: Dinnertime tips for busy parents

Sit-down family dinners sound like a great idea. But who has the time? Here are four easy ways to make nightly meals with the kids happen -- no stress, no arguing, no kidding.

By Leslie Crawford

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Live this: Break bread together

You may have heard about the studies — like this one (PDF) and this one — touting the emotional and physical benefits for children who eat dinner with their parents. (No bandwidth to read 'em? Just know that kids who dine regularly with their families tend to do better academically, have closer relationships with their parents, eat healthier food, have fewer weight problems, smoke less, and use fewer drugs and alcohol.)

Sounds fantastic until reality kicks in. Preparing a sit-down meal after a full day of work — along with wrangling homework and other after-school activities that eat into your precious few evening hours — can be impossible. Not so, says Suzie Kane, founder of familymealplanning.net and author of the Kindle book Suzie's Table: A Smorgasbord of Ideas for Less Stress and More Fun at Dinner Time.

"Start with a modest goal of just one or two nights a week," says Kane. "You don't even have to make the food. Even if it's takeout Chinese, the fact that you're sitting there together may be the only time busy parents have to connect with their kids."

If you do want to make an easy, healthy dinner, check out the recipes on eatingwell.com.

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

10/19/2010:
"For dual working parents / single parents, I know time is precious and when you work all week, there is still so much to do on the weekend. But a good way to have a weekday family meal ready in 10-15 mins is to cook on the weekend and then freeze things that can be moved out of the freezer and into the fridge the night before. By 6pm the next evening, you should have a defrosted item that you can just reheat. An even greater time/labor saver is to invest in a slow cooker. Things like chili, spaghetti sauce, hearty soups, stews, curries, pot roast & pulled pork can be made quiet effortlessly in a slow cooker and you can just leave it cooking on a Sat or Sun and still run your kids to soccer/band/ballet. You can cook double the amount fairly easily and then freeze in to two batches. Reheat one later in the week and save the other for another week. All you have to whip up on the night is rice or pasta or bread and a salad or a side of veggies. Also, hopefully on a weekend, you! r kids will have time to help you with the prep and clean-up work making it less of a chore for the parents. Having the kids help is so valuable -- my kids always an enjoy a meal more when they have invested some of their time and effort into it. We do try to eat together as a family most nights, unless one of is working late. It's rarely anything glamorous, but it is a way of unwinding together as a family after our busy days. "
10/18/2010:
"Are you kidding me? We eat dinner as a family EVERY night! It doesnt have to be a big, multi course meal, just sit down with your chilren and eat together! Sometimes it is as simple as sandwiches other times it's meatlaof, lasagna, whatever. But it is ALWAYS done at the table, with placemats, napkins, drinks and silverware. No one eats until we are all sitting and no one gets up with out saying 'Thank You' for dinner and asking to be excused. Oh, and the TV is NEVER on during meals. this is literally the most important 15 minutes you'll give and get from your kids so tune in and see how easy it can be!"
10/18/2010:
"Dual working parents and kids often arrive home between 6 and 6:30....so ideas on what to literally 'throw together' a good meal in 10-15 minutes would be great....I wonder if the person that posted 'I don't know why everyone seems to have so much trouble having a family meal' has a dual working family where kids and parents come home right at normal dinner time....this is more the norm in the Bay Area then the unusual. If one parent is home from 4 p.m. on, it's very easy to imagine how great family meals can be home-made daily....but this just isn't the reality for many, many families....please post ideas for dual working or single working parents....thanks. "
10/5/2010:
"I don't know why everyone seems to have so much trouble having a family meal. doesn't everyone in the family have to eat? I understand as they get older it gets harder with football/band/whatever. but past generations did it, why is it so hard now? I have 3 children (and I know they are young still, 7,6 and 4) but we have family meals 7 nights a wekk and family lunch on Sat and sunday's."
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