We all seem to be so busy these days, and for many families, sitting down together to a home-cooked meal can be a rarity. I’m the first to admit that juggling work life with keeping a happy family can be hard, but rushing around, 'making do' and grabbing food on the go can all lead to unhealthy eating habits such as snacking, skipping meals, eating fast food, TV meals and fussy eating.
More importantly, your family are missing out on the perfect opportunity to spend precious time together – discussing, sharing and enjoying bit of banter. So whether your children are 2, 12 or 20, try and organise at least three or four regular mealtimes during the week where everyone makes it to the table.
Cooking for everyone doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive, and you can never have too many cooks. Your toddler isn’t too young to stir and sieve; and your teenager isn’t too cool for a pinny – get them involved and mealtimes will become even more central to your happy family.
Over the last two decades, I’ve learnt a lot about how to get the whole family engaged and socialising over supper, so here are some of my top tips
Make a date
Whether it’s a Monday dinnertime, Saturday breakfast or Sunday lunch, set aside particular days that suit everyone and stick to it. These might change each week, but aim for at least three meals together at the table.
The dining table was built for talking, so take advantage of this time together and go gadget-free (and that means mum and dad too!). Candy Crush on the iPad and work emails on the Blackberry can wait. Turn off the TV too and you might just find out something new.
Sitting down as a family doesn’t mean you have to spend hours prepping a gourmet meal. It could be as simple as rustling up omelettes with their favourite fillings or cooking a quick and tasty stir-fry. Keep your kitchen cupboards and freezer stocked with a variety of canned, dried and frozen ingredients that you know your family will enjoy.
When you have time, make more than you need for one mealtime, and freeze the extra portions for a day when you need to whip something up quickly. I’m a big fan of planning ahead, and my new Family Cookbook includes an entire chapter dedicated to delicious meals that can be planned in advance and frozen.
The question game
Asking your kids how their day at school went is unlikely to drum up an inspired response. Take control of the conversation, but avoid interrogation. Talk about your day, ask leading questions and encourage them to ask questions too. If no one wants to talk about the day, steer the conversation to something neutral and fun, like an upcoming movie or hobby they enjoy.
Annabel’s Family Cookbook (Ebury Press) is filled with cooking inspiration for the whole family and available to buy now.