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Maggie Jover: Do a little legwork for family meals

It can be a big challenge to find the time to plan, prepare and share family meals each evening and then be relaxed enough to enjoy the meal and your family.

Try these three steps to schedule family meals and make them enjoyable for everyone.

Planning ahead. Planning ahead is necessary, so look over the calendar to choose a time when everyone can be there. Figure out which obstacles are getting in the way of more family meals — busy schedules, no supplies in the house, no time to cook, etc.

Ask for your family’s help and ideas on how these roadblocks can be removed. If time to cook is the problem, try using a slow cooker or doing some prep work on weekends, or even completely preparing a dish ahead of time and putting it in the freezer.

Get help preparing the meal. Have your children help in the preparation. Recruiting younger kids may take extra work, but it’s often worth it. Simple tasks such as putting plates on the table, tossing the salad, pouring a beverage, folding the napkins or being a “taster” are appropriate jobs for preschoolers and school-age kids. If you have teens around, consider assigning them a night to cook, with you as the helper.

Parents need to set a good example by saying “please” and “thanks” to their kids for their help. Being upbeat and pleasant as you prepare the meal will rub off on your kids.

Enjoy the meal. Many parents bring work home from their job. Time needs to be set aside to enjoy family time together. Even if you’re thinking of all you must accomplish after dinner’s done (doing dishes, making lunches, etc.), try not to focus on that during dinner.

Make your time at the table pleasant and allow everyone to decompress from the day and enjoy being together as a family. Kids look forward to discussing their day with their parents, and these interactions are critical for healthy emotional and physical well-being.

So, as the new school year begins, make plans to have family meals. If family meal time is new to your family, start by having each person at the table tell one fun thing that happened that day. Make meal time a happy experience for everyone.

MAGGIE JOVER is the family and consumer sciences county extension agent with Texas AgriLife Extension. She can be reached at 940-349-2882.