Focus on the Family

Get creative with family mealtime

Q: How can we make family meals a priority when we're so busy? Crazy schedules are the norm in our household. I don't get home from work until 6 p.m. and if my family waits for me to prepare a nutritious dinner, they'll starve before I can get it on the table.

Jim: Because you're a working mom with a busy family, it's impossible to serve up the kind of family dinners your great-grandmother used to. That's OK. Don't throw in the towel and admit defeat just yet. Instead, change your strategy. Approach the problem from a different angle.

Remember, shared meals don't always have to happen at dinnertime or during the busy working week. Sometimes this just isn't possible. If you can manage three family meals a week, you'll be on the right track. And you can achieve this if you're willing to stretch your plan to include weekends and other mealtimes. The idea is to compensate for your lack of time with a little creativity and ingenuity.

One way to do this is to prepare a large number of meals beforehand. Several cookbooks are available with lots of practical tips for planning and preparing meals on a monthly basis, including the "Once-A-Month Cooking" series by Mary Beth Lagerborg and Mimi Wilson. You may also want to take a look at subscription-based services such as eMeals (www.emeals.com), which offer customized meal plans, recipes and correlated shopping lists that help you focus on the relational aspect of mealtimes by taking the stress out of food preparation.

If you don't want to get involved in planning that far ahead, you may be able to simplify things just by changing your ideas about dinner. The evening meal doesn't have to be a big production. The point is to have some family time around the table.

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Q: I have a co-worker who doesn't carry her share of the load. She's constantly on the phone with friends, writing personal emails and passing work off to other people. I'm so frustrated. I'd love to "squeal" on her, but that would only make me look bad. What should I do?

Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: I applaud you for looking for constructive ways to deal with this. Too many people try to avoid conflict, but ignoring the problem only leads to an explosion of emotions down the road. And even if you're justified, losing your temper is never in your best interest.

Your first order of business is to deal with you and identify your feelings. You may feel disrespected, helpless, powerless, taken advantage of, and it's important to acknowledge this. Only after you've done this will you be ready to effectively address the problem.

Next, as hard as it may be, you need to go directly and privately to your co-worker and share your observations and concerns. Don't do this in anger, but with a humble spirit and a heart that wants to understand. Empathy can lead to greater understanding, and you may be surprised to discover some personal issues — such as a family crisis — that may account for the temporary poor performance.

Ideally you'll receive a reasonable explanation and a commitment to change. But if you're confronted with indifference or defiance, you'll want to involve your supervisor. Rather than go on your own, schedule a time with your boss and the two of you. Don't look to accuse or assign blame. Your goal should be to objectively share your observations, and ask for clarity on how the workload is supposed to be divvied up. This should put your co-worker on notice that you're no longer willing to enable this kind of behavior.

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(Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus .)



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