Ask Miriam | Summer Dinners a Family Quandary

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Dear Miriam,

In the unstructured lawlessness of summer vacation, I can’t figure out how to feed my family dinner. Everyone seems to snack all day and then comes home too sweaty and tired to think about turning on the stove. Plus, we’re seeing a lot more of each other, so we don’t depend on dinner time as a way to catch up on everyone’s day. Do you have any suggestions?

Signed,

Summer supper

Dear Supper,

Lower your expectations. If your family is eating and playing and enjoying themselves, your summer is off to a great start. The particulars of when and where and what don’t matter too much, and part of the joy of summer vacation is a loosening of some of those school-year structures.

Make sure that the foods your kids are snacking on during the day include healthy options. Bring your family to a farmers market with you as one of your summer activities, and let everyone pick out an ingredient or two that they want to try. Go to a pick-your-own farm and see where your fruits and veggies come from. Keep the balance of foods in the house tipped toward things that are fine for constant snacking, so if that’s what continues to happen, you’ll know that their diets are balanced.

If you’re a planner during the school year, there’s no reason you have to let that go completely during the summer. Come up with weekly meal plans that don’t involve a lot (or any) cooking. Decide on one night a week where you’ll sit at the table — maybe Shabbat — and if it doesn’t happen the rest of the week, let that be.

Smoothies are great meal options and can be customized for everyone’s tastes. If you like to grill, aim for once a week so you have some structure to your eating. It won’t heat up your house and lets you stay outside; no wonder it’s the quintessential summer cooking method. Depending on your children’s ages, empower your family members to each be in charge of dinner one night a week so you know everyone is getting something they like.

Invest in a cooler so you can take picnics on the go. Accept that appetites really do change when it’s hot outside. Make sure that everyone is staying hydrated regardless of what they’re eating. Bring snacks with you, especially for after swimming or sports, so that hunger doesn’t catch you unexpectedly at inconvenient times. Remember that ice cream is a delicious and delightful treat that has calcium in it.

Summer is temporary, and so are the particulars of this problem. Whether you solve your dilemma or not, when the school year starts again (don’t worry — a long time from now), you want to look back fondly on the summer as a time of fresh food and happy family, not as a time of stress and imposed meal structures that no one actually wanted. And, while you’re trying, to be sure that your family is eating adequately, make sure that you are finding ways to eat and enjoy the things that you like, too.

Be well,

Miriam

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