The benefits of family dinners are pretty astounding. It’s not surprising that kids who dine with their parents tend to eat more nutritiously and are less likely to overeat or be overweight. But studies also show that kids and teens who regularly share meals with their parents do better in school, are better readers and have a reduced risk of substance abuse. Mealtimes allow parents to model good eating habits and table manners, and are a chance for families to connect.

It’s not easy, though, is it? One kid has swim practice, Mom’s on a deadline, Dad’s meeting ran late, the other kid’s addicted to The Voice. Making family dinners a reality takes persistence and ingenuity. Here are some suggestions for carving out time and making meals meaningful, without driving yourself or anyone else crazy.

Make family meals a priority

With our busy schedules, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of a family dinner: more important than basketball, piano, Boy Scouts or yoga. If you or your kids have multiple activities every night, it might be time to rethink. Commit to at least three or four nights each week.

Plan

 There’s nothing worse than staring into the fridge at 6 p.m. with no idea what’s for dinner. Meal planning takes a lot of stress out of family meals. Your plans don’t have to be elaborate; just jot down ideas for four to five meals before grocery shopping. And get buy-in from the kids by asking them for menu suggestions and involving them in meal prep.

Unplug

This should go without saying. No phones, games or screens of any sort at family meals.

Be flexible 

Eat early or late. Or if dinner just doesn’t work (someone works nights), sharing another meal is just as good. Try gathering for breakfast or weekend brunch.

Keep it simple

Save the complicated recipes for impressing the in-laws. Homemade meals are great, but families bond just as well over store-bought rotisserie chickens and bagged salad.

Keep it light

Don’t blow this chance to connect with your kids by using the time for lectures or drilling about grades. Instead, ask what made them laugh today. Or plan a family trip.