8 Steps to a Happier Family Life
It doesn't even have to be a meal. Yes, studies have shown that kids who have regular family dinners are less likely to use alcohol or drugs, but that result stems from consistent, quality time, when parents are paying attention to their kids—not everyone gathering at 6 P.M. sharp. "You can replicate that constancy in a lot of ways," says Daniel Cheron, Ph.D., the assistant director of the Center for Effective Child Therapy at the Judge Baker Children's Center, in Boston. A few possibilities: Plan a standing date for a bedtime snack. Make car rides to school sacred (and video-free). If your teenager likes to shoot hoops in the driveway every afternoon, stand there catching missed shots and chat. And you can still feed your family a home-cooked meal (another benefit of family dinner is that kids tend to eat healthier) without sitting at the table together. Think that's impossible since your toddler needs to eat at five, another kid gets home from soccer at seven, and your spouse rolls in at eight? "It's called the 'staggered dinner,'" says Caroline Campion, a mother of two and a coauthor of the cookbook Keepers ($17.50, amazon.com). "Make a turkey chili or a braised meat that can happily sit on low heat for a few hours." You'll feed everyone well and enjoy quality time as your kids belly up throughout the evening.