Now that our kids are back in school, we can get back to our crazy schedules and the hectic grind of work, school, and extracurricular activities. By the end of the day, we are so tired and overwhelmed that preparing a meal is an unwanted but necessary distraction.

This is unfortunate, given that family meals are important on many levels and should be given the attention they deserve. October is Eat Better, Eat Together Month and a time for families to remind themselves of the importance of eating meals together.

After all, home cooked meals are a great way to ensure that your kids are eating right, but more importantly, they are an opportunity to learn about each other's day and work through the good and the bad. Families can reconnect at mealtime and strengthen the bonds that get lost in the modern world. They are also a good opportunity to teach good manners and civility.

If that's not enough to convince you (it should be), consider this: something as simple as eating meals together has tangible benefits for our health and happiness. They have been linked to lower rates of obesity and eating disorders in kids. They are also believed to lower the rates of depression, substance abuse, and teen pregnancy. Conversation at mealtime has been found to be more effective at building vocabulary than reading, and children who eat regular family meals do better at school.

This begs the question: how do I get it done? In most cases, it's just a question of finding the time and wherewithal to pull it off. With a little organization, thought, and determination, it is easier than you think. Here are some tips on how to get it done.

1. Communicate Your Feelings

Let your family know that this is important to you and that they should take it seriously, for the health and well-being of the family.

2. Keep It Simple

Elaborate meals are wonderful, but can make cooking a chore, especially on a regular basis. Simple dishes like soups and stews can be delicious and very satisfying.

3. Be Organized

Nothing makes cooking easier than having everything ready so you can hit the ground running. Chop vegetables beforehand and when possible cook dishes in the morning or the night before, then re-heat.

4. Let the Kids Help

Kids have a greater appreciation of their food when they've had a hand in preparing it. Plus, cooking is a valuable skill to have and is a chance to spend quality time with your kids.

5. Take Them Shopping

Speaking of help, have the kids choose the foods that you'll need to prepare supper. This increases their awareness and appreciation of meal preparation and can be fun and helpful.

6. Slow-Cook It

Slow-cookers are an awesome way to prepare hearty soups, stews, or sauces beforehand and have them ready eat when supper time arrives.

7. Coordinate With Your Spouse

Spouses should be on the same page when it comes to family meals. Let each other know that grabbing a bite at work is not acceptable and efforts should be made to eat together.

8. Turn Off All Screens

Screen time at the table means zero quality time. Turn off all screens so that everyone pays attention and is engaged. Being away from your phone for an hour is not the end of the world.

9. Serve Water While You're at It

Since meals are about eating healthy, eliminate excessive calories that replace good nutrition. Drink water and focus on eating the good stuff.

10. Establish Priorities (and Stick to Them)

Kids love desert, but sweet treats should never be eaten in lieu of healthy and nutritious food. Make sure they understand that desert will only be available after they've eaten their meal.

11. Make It Interesting

Nothing makes a meal more engaging than good topics of conversation. Let everyone have a say in what should be discussed, or talk about current events. Word games are fun, as well.

12. Bend the Rules Now and Then

Bringing home take-out or a pizza can make for a nice family meal together as long something healthy is being consumed and that everyone is present and engaged.

As a parent, you'd do anything to protect the health and well-being of your family, so why wouldn't you give the same attention to something as important as what they eat? For many of us, meals are the only time that we get to spend time together, so we need to fight to preserve it.

For more information about the importance of family meals, visit the website for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Family Dinner Project.