In the movie The Grinch, Jim Carrey’s cantankerous character stands atop the blustery Mount Crumpet and considers each name on a list of Whoville citizens, declaring in angst, “Hate, hate, hate. Hate, hate, hate. LOATH ENTIRELY.” There are many times this scene reminds me of popular sentiments regarding household chores—especially dinner.
Why is dinner planning and preparation such a drain for so many families? We know that eating family meals regularly is good for kids. Research shows that kids who eat regular meals with their families perform better in school, have better self-esteem and resilience, are less likely to participate in risky behaviors like substance abuse, develop eating disorders, and experience teen pregnancy. When kids and adults eat home with their family they eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods and less sugar-sweetened beverages and fast foods than kids who do not. Healthier weights are also reported among kids who eat family meals, and when you involving kids in food production and planning, it can give them a sense of ownership and leads to improved eating patterns. These benefits have been shown to extend into young adulthood, even after children leave the home.
So if most of us are aware of the many benefits of family meals, why is it such a struggle to get dinner on the table? Some cite picky eaters, restrictive diets, limited income, and busy schedules as culprits. Another big reason is the repetitive and tiring process of making dinner decisions. Research has shown that making decisions can be mentally tiring, and that our brains have a limited capacity to exercise executive function. With all that is happening in our busy lives, if we wait until the end of each day to plan dinner, make a last minute stop at the grocery store, and then do all of the food preparation, there’s a good chance we will suffer from decision fatigue, as well as physical fatigue. Our mind-maker-uper may be three times too small!
Here are some tips to help you conquer the dinner drain:
Great dinner resources online:
Erica Hansen is a registered dietitian who owns the nutrition consulting company, Foods That Fit. She specializes in working with individuals and organizations to make their health and lifestyle goals fit into real life. She believes that getting back to the basics—preparing good, wholesome foods at home—is the first step to improving health.