How to Put Dinner on the Table Every Night Without Fail

A home without family meals is missing a vital ingredient. That’s why I’ve put together 9 easy steps to mealtime planning to guarantee your dinnertime success.

Before we go into the 9 easy steps though, lets see what a group of physicians have to say about the importance of family meals.

Frequent family meals are inversely associated with disordered eating, alcohol and substance use, violent behavior, and feelings of depression or thoughts of suicide in adolescents.
— Harrison, Norris, Obeid, Fu, Weistangle, Sampson

What this means is that if you don't make family meals a priority, then your children will become more susceptible to the above ailments. How susceptible they become will depend upon whether or not you regularly share at least one family meal a day. (Emphasis on one, my own.)

The more likely you are to eat together, the less susceptible your children become. 

Given the above quote, which was taken from a synthesis of available research by a group of Canadian pediatricians, you'd think we'd make meal planning more of a  priority. 

But NO at least not in Northern America. 

We often leave meal time preparations until the last possible minute when we're tired and want to relax rather than go into the kitchen and start cooking dinner.

Too many times that means we don't.

Failing to prepare family meals isn't a problem limited to working mothers either. I know plenty of stay-at-home-moms who can't seem to find time to regularly cook for their families. 

Mealtimes are sacred times when you’re raising children.

At the very minimum, you should aim to have dinner with your children on the evenings when everyone is home together.

Five or six dinners per week as a family should be enough to keep your children off medication and out of jail. Sure, it's okay to take a break now and then, but it should be the exception and not the norm.

Enough said!

Here are 9 easy steps and a full proof plan for establishing family dinners in your home. 

1. Plan your menu in advance 

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You need to decide at the beginning of the week what meals you're going to cook.  Take a pen or pencil and a sheet of paper and map out your weekly menu.

Write down the name of the meal you will serve for each of the seven days.

Try to plan easy meals to cook that you can serve as leftovers the next day. If you roast chicken one night, you can roast extra chicken and then use the leftover chicken to make a pasta dish the next day.

Cooking two meals that you can serve for four evenings will help you tremendously, especially if you're a homeschooling or working mother. 

Finding ways to maximize your time is key to “no fail” dinnertimes.

2. Write down each dish for each meal 

Using another sheet of paper, you want to list each dish you will serve per meal. 

Let's say with the roast chicken you'll serve carrots, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, and a green salad. You have to write down each dish. You will need this list for step three.

3.  Break each dish into ingredients

As tedious as it sounds, you don't want to skip this step. Do not leave anything out! Even if you think you have the ingredient, you want to write it down. 

How many times have you come home from the store only to think you had an ingredient you didn't actually have? End of dinner plan. 

4. Cross off any ingredients you have after you check your kitchen

You want to go through your refrigerator and cupboards to make sure you have everything you thought you had. 

5. Make Your Shopping List

Write down every ingredient you will need and how much of it you'll need to buy. Now you have your shopping list completed. 

You’ll be happy to know that I’ve included a special download to make this last step easy for you.

It's a shopping master checklist, courtesy of my friend, Jason Monaco, who's brilliant wife Maureen has never failed to have a meal on the table at dinnertime. This checklist alone will save you tons of time.

The kitchen is the heart of the home
— Old Saying

Make sure you include enough of each ingredient for each of the meals you'll use it in. For example, if you have half a carton of eggs, calculate how many eggs you need to get through the week, and make sure you buy that many. Do this for each ingredient that you'll need to use more than once. 

6. Shop and shop on Time

Now that you've accomplished these steps, you now want to head to the grocery store. Whatever time and day you choose to shop, enter your grocery shopping excursion into your calendar, so you don't run out of food. 

It's straightforward; if you run out of food, your plan fails.

Try to shop in the morning or evenings when the stores are less crowded. Shopping then will be faster, take less energy, and it'll be kinder on your nerves. 

Avoid shopping on Sunday if you can because the food tends to be less fresh. If you know what day the fresh meat and fish come in, you might plan to shop on that day. 

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7. Have a system in your house, so no one uses any of the ingredients you need for meals

If you have older children or a husband who likes to cook, you want to make sure they understand that you have meals planned and some foods are off limits.

Put your menu list on the refrigerator and train them to check it before they use anything you need. Decorate it with thumbprints dipped in blood if you need to.

Your dinnertime success could mean the difference between a wholesome family and a broken family. It truly is a serious matter!

(If you come up with any better strategies, please share them with me.)

8.  Do some of your prep work ahead of time 

When you wait until the last minute to make dinner, you usually have a lot to do, and it can feel more exhausting than it needs to. One trick that helps is to prepare some of the ingredients ahead of time.

Make some time during the day to marinate the meat, cut up the vegetables, and wash the lettuce. 

You can even prepare foods that will be used in multiple meals by cutting up all of the carrots for the week at one time and so forth. 

I don't recommend the latter because some foods begin to lose their freshness and nutritional value soon after you cut into them. But if it means the difference between not cooking and cooking, then you want to add this modification to your plan. 

Food that’s a little less fresh is better than no food at all.

If you get some of the prep work done during the day, cooking the meal later feels less exhausting. Prep work is an important step to keep you motivated when your energy starts to lag at the end of the day. 


9. Enjoy dinner and some good conversation with your family

The last step should be famously easy. One thing I always marvel at is how much work goes into getting a meal on the table, and how fast our hard work is consumed!

Some Final Tips

If you have children who are old enough to help, by all means, delegate some of the duties around meal time like prep work, setting the table, clearing the table and doing the dishes.

She who cooks does not do dishes.
— Elizabeth Y. Hanson

If you have children ten and older (using your discretion, sometimes even younger), they can prepare meals too. 

As my grandfather used to remind us, “Many hands make light work.”

Also, if your husband is willing to do the shopping, it can be a huge help. Men tend to be more pragmatic when shopping, and they will literally stick to the list.

If your husband does the weekly shopping, it'll also guarantee you stay within your budget which is great for your marriage too. 

And it helps you resist the chocolate bars and cupcakes at the same time.

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Unless, of course, they're on your list. 


☛ Don’t forget to leave a comment below and let me know what resonates with you!

If you liked this, you might enjoy my free download 7 Steps to Raising Children Who Love to Read.

Elizabeth Y. Hanson is a veteran homeschooling consultant and certified parenting coach.