Summertime usually means a break from the hectic school year pace, giving families more time to gather around the dinner table or the backyard grill. As most Dallas/Fort Worth area kids head back to school next week, Chef Deb Cantrell (also a mom of 2 school-aged children) offers up several tips to help you protect those precious family meals…despite school schedules, practices, performances, homework and other school-year demands.  “Bringing the family together at the dinner table each night, or at least most nights, has a powerful and positive impact on every member of the family,” says Cantrell, a certified personal chef (CPC®) and the owner of Savor Culinary Services in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. According to research, eating together as a family on a regular basis provides many benefits, including: family bonds become stronger, children are better adjusted, family members eat more nutritional meals, they are less likely to be overweight and they are less likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs. It can be tempting to eat out more, eat in shifts or simply grab and go, says Cantrell, but with some pre-planning, you can avoid these pitfalls.

1) Create a weekly menu and shopping list to stay on top of meal-planning

2) Prepare meals ahead of time and freeze or refrigerate.

3) Another option is to pre-cut and/or pre-mix ingredients, to make meal prep easier and faster in the evenings.

4) Let kids help out with simple chopping or cooking tasks.

5) Pull out the crockpot or other slow-cooker and use it!

6) Plan theme meals, like weekly “taco night” that everyone participates in.

7) Use as many colors as possible and don’t be afraid to try new things (resist assuming that kids just want pizza, chicken nuggets and mac and cheese).

8) If you’re new to gathering for dinner together, start out with just a couple nights per week…and then increase the number of nights over time.

9) Eliminate distractions during family meal time, like TV, cell phones, tablets, etc. Lead by example here. A half hour of truly connecting and being present will go a LONG way.

10) Keep conversations light, fun and allow time for each family member to share about their day. Chef Deb knows from experience that all of the above can be easier said than done sometimes.  “Some nights, the best we can do with our crazy schedule is fit 20 minutes in for sandwiches,” says Cantrell, “so I keep good sandwich meat and artisan bread on hand, plus some pre-cooked or pre-cut raw veggies. Dinners don’t have to be fancy – just healthy and a time to connect as a family.”

If you need help with menu planning or simply don’t have the time or desire to plan, shop and prepare meals, Chef Deb and her team can help with personal chef services. “We do dinner so you don’t have to,” says Cantrell.  “All you have to do is heat and enjoy.”

To learn more, go to or call 817.277.3031.