You’ve heard it a thousand times and read it in every article: family dinners are important. They help prevent obesity and increase grade point averages; they may even be the key to world peace! So you try, especially at the beginning of every school year, to make schedules, menus and grocery shopping all work out so that you are sitting down with the family as many nights as possible for dinner. Then reality hits and you’re bargaining with your kids on how many bites they have to eat, someone is kicking someone else under the table and when you ask how your kids’ days were, all you hear is “fine” in response. Exactly how is this helping? Is it possible to make family dinners fun?
Experts say it is, really. According to the University of Florida’s IFAS solutions website, “research suggests that having dinner together as a family at least four times a week has positive effects on child development. Family dinners have been linked to a lower risk of obesity, substance abuse, eating disorders and an increased chance of graduating from high school.” OK, so maybe world peace is a stretch, but I wasn’t that far off. So now that we are convinced we should do it, how can we make family dinners successful and fun?
Change of location
My kids think it is much more fun to eat on the back porch than in the kitchen. Try eating outside at the picnic table or clear off the table in the rarely used dining room and set it with your fancy guest dishes. The kids will love the change of scenery and may even surprise you by using their best manners. Pinkies up!
Make it “Taco Tuesday,” create a baked potato bar, or make an endless salad bar to motivate everyone to eat together. You can also make signature dishes from favorite movies or books to get kids of all ages excited about mealtime.
We were always taught not to play with our food, but we can create some fun activities for mealtime that will keep the family engaged. Playing restaurant (the kids can take orders or serve you), Iron Chef Family Edition, I-Spy or even 20 Questions can keep things entertaining.
Give up the negotiations and nagging for a night. Let them eat what they eat and don’t bargain with them over eating “one more bite of veggies.” As long as you are offering mostly healthy choices, they will get the nutrition they need.
Start a Conversation
Get your kids talking. This becomes especially important as your children get older. That 4-year-old who won’t stop talking will one day be 11 and might answer questions with one syllable words only. Talk about things that interest THEM, even if you don’t really understand the next level of Clash of Clans. Your third grader’s account of the gaga game at recess today is the most important part of his day, so let him tell you all the details. If you can’t seem to get things going, do your research. Find out what new movies are coming out, or get family input on what everyone wants to do on your upcoming vacation. If you’re still struggling, put topics in a jar and pull one out at dinnertime.