Growing up, we ate dinner together as a family every night. Without fail, our mom would have dinner all cooked and ready to go by six o’clock sharp. No matter what extracurricular activities we were involved in, or what we had going on, we always tried to make it back to the table to spend that dinner hour reconnecting with our family.
It was something all six of us sisters really looked forward to during the day. For us, dinner was a time to check up on each other, hear about everyone’s day, and share a story or two. Our parents kept us interested by creating funny traditions, starting engaging conversations, and giving their undivided attention to just us girls.
Phones were never allowed at the table, and we would get so embarrassed if ever our phones did ring during dinner. Without fail, our dad would answer the call, kindly let them know we were eating dinner as a family, and tell them we would call them back when we were done. As teenagers, we were horrified, but as we’ve grown up and moved out, we realize how important it was to turn off all distractions and focus on our family, even if it’s just for one meal a day. Now that we have families of our own, we’ve carried on the traditions our parents started and also added a few of our own.
As food bloggers who focus on easy, family-friendly recipes, we get asked a lot of the same questions from our readers. The most common questions revolve around meal planning and budgeting.
Our mom was amazing at planning meals. Every Friday, she would sit down with the grocery store ads and plan out the entire week. She would write out the menu and place it on the fridge, saving herself from answering our repeated questions. If you wanted to know what was for dinner, you could check the menu. As we moved out of the house and started families of our own, we used the same routine. Each of us creates (or at least attempts to create) a menu for the upcoming week’s meals. When we started blogging, we started sharing our weekly menu plans with all of our readers. Just like our mom, we post a menu plan every Friday.
Helpful hints for meal planning
Find a website or an app that works for you. There are hundreds of resources at the tips of your fingers that can help you plan ahead. Sites like myrecipemagic.com will save your favorite recipes, create a personalized menu, print shopping lists for your recipes, and even create a cookbook with all of your favorites. Go online and find an app or a site that will help you get organized— and stick with it.
Make freezer meals. Another one of our favorite ways to plan ahead is by making freezer meals. Many sites have tabs just specifically for recipes that can be saved as freezer meals. If you know you’ll have extra time during the week, double a recipe and eat half of it for dinner, and freeze the other half for a rainy day.
Plan for leftovers. It can be tempting to let your leftovers go to waste. Growing up, if my mom knew we would only eat half of a dish of lasagna, lasagna would be on the menu two times that week. If you plan on eating leftovers for another meal, you are much less likely to put them in the back of the refrigerator and forget about them. You can also use your leftovers in different ways. Look online for leftover recipe ideas. Get creative and see what you can come up with.
Budgeting is not an easy task, especially when it comes to feeding a family. I have learned from personal experience that sticking to a budget takes determination and commitment, but understanding the reasons behind your budget can help ease the pain. Learning from our mom and from our own experiences, we have a few ways to share that can help you cut costs on your grocery bill.
First, pay attention. If you’re not paying close attention to what you are putting in your cart at the grocery store, you can end up with a lot more food than you had originally planned. An extra bag of chips here, a package of cookies there, and before you know it, you have a cart full of things you don’t need.
Write a list. When you’re planning your meals, try to plan them around special sale items at your local grocer. If chicken breasts are on sale that week, plan on making your favorite chicken recipe. Take your list to the store with you. If it’s not on the list, you probably don’t need it.
Keep staples in your pantry and freezer. Stock your pantry with certain items, like sugars, flour, spices, and the ingredients you use most often in your favorite recipes. All of the recipes found on our blog are made with common household ingredients; we even put together a special list of all of our pantry staples. If you keep these basic items stocked and buy them as they go on sale or as they run out, it can save you time and money. You can also save more money by buying things like frozen meat, fish, and vegetables in bulk.
Every Sunday, our dad would ask us the same question at the table: “What did you learn in church today?” We always knew it was coming, and it helped us listen in church so we would have something to report back during dinner. Here are a few more conversation starters from our new book to help spark some good conversation at your dinner table:
· What was the best part of your day?
· What is one thing you could have done better today?
· What is one thing you are grateful for today?
· What two items would you grab if the house were on fire?
· What is one thing you couldn’t live without?
· What is one way you helped another person today?
Having regular family meals can be a challenge, but it’s worth every effort. Spending time together in the kitchen and at the dinner table brings the family together in a way that, for us, has lasted generations. No matter where you are in trying to start this tradition, whether you’re just able to eat fast food together once a week or ready to start a regular extended family get together, these tips and traditions from us are here to help. Happy eating!