Q: How do you get your kids to talk to you?

A: Sit down to a family meal more days than not. While you are eating, talk about those things you’d like to hear from them.

What happened that day? What were your challenges, frustrations, little thrills? Who did you talk to? What did you think about?

Then shut up and wait.

Ruth Reichl, the editor of Gourmet, the famous cooking magazine that was discontinued recently, was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air.  Reichl talked about the importance of family meals and the amazing power they have to get kids talking. She said most people ask their kid what happened at school that day and they hear, “Nothing.” But sit down to a meal together, talk about your day and before you know it your kid is starts telling a little story.

That’s great, said Terri, but how does a busy couple get home from work and make a home cooked meal? An understanding working mother, Reichl had a ready answer: The hard part of cooking a nice meal during the week isn’t in the cooking. It’s all the time it takes to figure out what you’re having and shopping for the food. That takes hours. So what do you do?

This is what Reichl does. She takes a couple of hours every weekend to plan out what the meals for the upcoming week. Then she goes out to shop for the food.

Incidentally, that’s what my husband and I do. Listening to this story on the radio we grinned at each other like happy monkeys. Over the years, and many trial and errors, this system evolved for us:

1) Meal plan & assemble a shopping list together,
2) Grocery shop together and
3) Divide up the cooking responsibilities.

He cooks on my work heavy days and I on his. We eat better this way, there’s more chance we eat as a family, and there’s much less stress and anxiety during the week.

Since the kids could talk they've been involved in meal planning. Since they could walk and carry a dish safely, they've been involved in setting the table and cleaning up. Now that they are teens, they take the responsibility to plan, prep and cook one meal, just one meal, a week. Usually this means they cook while we supervise, but that's cool. They're learning to make more than mac and cheese out of a box.

A glorious side benefit of all this work? If we're patient enough and listen hard enough, we hear more about our kids’ days than, “Nothing.”

Related articles:

The Family Meal is What Counts, TV On or Off

Pasta Rules

So Easy Vegetable Soup

Ruth Reichl: A New Book and the End of Gourmet

Six Steps to Successful Meal Planning