January is always the month I think I'm going to get my life in order. I take the holiday decorations down, start to organize my closets, go through my family's budget and try to plan out my meals for the month to come.
Now, I freely admit that I don't actually complete a calendar month's worth of meal planning. I might only get through the first week or so before my mind starts to wander back to the closet I also haven't finished cleaning. Still, the exercise is worthwhile, and it dovetails perfectly with my efforts to curtail my monthly spending, as eating at home is a fraction of the cost of eating out, leaving me more money to save or invest.
What I've learned, though, in the years I've spent trying to tidy up my home and finances is that if I involve my family in the meal planning, they become invested in that meal and family meals in general. And the odds that they will be happy when dinner is served improve dramatically.
Even though I think I know what they like, asking the question is still important: One of my kids will inevitably request that a favorite BBQ meatloaf or panini be put in the lineup. Because I include them in the process, they feel as though they own it, too, and become much less picky, even enthusiastic. when their ideas come to fruition.
I find this tactic also works when grocery shopping. I'm big on trying new things, and hope my kids will be the same way when they get older. With this in mind, I encourage them to shop with me from time to time and select the vegetables we'll cook for dinner. I nudge them toward things they haven't tasted before, such as broccolini (which they liked) and celery root (which they were less excited about). Although they may not end up loving that carefully selected veggie, they almost always give it a fighting chance -- much more so than if the strange vegetation landed on their plates unannounced.
Bringing the kids into the kitchen is another important tool in the family dinner arsenal. Little kids love to be involved in any way they can, even if it's just pulling the cord on the lettuce spinner or assembling a Smoked Turkey, Apple and Cheddar Panini. Bigger kids begin to realize the importance of knowing how to feed themselves or at least impress a future date with a home-cooked meal, which gives them incentive to help, as well. Again, it's all about getting them to make an investment in the process. If they're cooking it, it must be good.
So although your closet floor may still be littered with shoes you can't even remember buying, I hope your kitchen will be filled with family members all working together toward a healthier, happier and more prosperous new year.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of "Everyday to Entertaining" and "The Big Book of Appetizers." Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.