Most households in the United States have become duel income households, due to rising costs and wages that haven’t kept up with inflation for decades. Raising a family while both parents work can be extremely challenging, especially if there isn’t a lot of help (like retired grandparents) nearby. Squeezing in time to make food can be another challenge.
Many studies have demonstrated the benefits of eating together. It not only strengthens the marriage, but also helps provide children a stable environment in which to grow. Young children actually improve their vocabulary and get smarter by listening to dinner conversation (and this change leads to higher reading levels and more frequent reading). For children in middle and high school, eating dinner together is a stronger predictor of high test scores than time spent in class, doing homework, or playing sports. Adolescents who ate meals with their family 5-7 times per week were twice as likely to get A’s in school.
Most importantly, eating regular family dinners together has been shown to lower the chances of high risk behaviors in teens, such as smoking, binge drinking, drug use, and eating disorders. Frequent family dinners are correlated with lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts and a higher frequency of good moods for children.
However, this doesn’t mean the food needs to be prepared at home. Eating out is generally expensive and less healthy than eating at home. A meal at a fast food restaurant can easily come out to $5-10 per person (and sometimes significantly more). One option I’ve used with tremendous success is buying prepared food in bulk. I focus on shopping at large supermarkets or wholesalers that offer catering.
For example, Wal-Mart catering prices are extremely inexpensive when considered on a per meal, per person price comparison to other options for eating out. They offer options such as rotisserie chicken, slider’s trays (mini burgers) and a number of other sandwich trays. The food is made fresh and ends up costing less than a quarter of the price of eating out.
Another option similar to Walmart is the Costo Sandwich Platter. An assortment of sandwiches cut in quarters that will feed a family of 5 for 2-3 meals for less than $3 per meal. Add a salad (or Costco vegetable tray) and it’s an ideal dinner for a family that’s healthy, inexpensive, and has no preparation time or cleanup involved. The vegetable tray comes with carrots, broccoli, snow peas and other healthy items (that may be in season). Costco has become the world’s largest seller of prime meats and organic foods and generally prepares all their deli items with very high quality ingredients.
In conclusion, it’s incredibly important and beneficial to spend meal time together as a family. Dinner conversation and having a regular time of day where everyone sits together benefits everyone – it makes the marriage stronger, your kids smarter, happier, and less prone to the dangers of adolescence. The key to getting these benefits isn’t meal preparation or cleanup time – it’s actually sitting together at home and having great conversations. One of the best ways to do this is to buy inexpensive, healthy food prepared for parties or large groups at large supermarket chains and eat that at home. The meals last 2-3 days and are healthy, cheap, and save a lot of time so you can focus on what’s important – sitting together and dining with your loved ones.