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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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Teach this: Get them talking

"Fine." "Nothing." "I dunno." OK, so now how are you going to pry information out of your kids about their day? For years Kane has used dinner table games to turn arguing adolescents and tight-lipped teens into spirited conversationalists. One of her favorites: a game she calls "2-Up+1-Down." Each person at the table shares two good things and one disappointing thing from their day. "Celebrating our successes of the day feels good," says Kane. "And talking about the 'downs' gives family members a chance to support each other."

A variation: Give two compliments to another person at the table and then say one thing about something you did that you're proud of. "This game is great for kids who need a boost in their self-esteem," says Kane. And what kid doesn't need mom-and-pop props now and then?

In the unlikely event that these games don't loosen lips, have each family member describe what super power they'd most like to have. Before you know it, the family will be talking about how to achieve world peace. Or the pros and cons of electric blue tights.

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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