We have totally let family dinners slide during busy weekdays–who’s with me? My husband and I realized how much we were missing, so we changed our family dinners.
Family Dinners with Kids = Stress
The truth is… a lot of our friends don’t even have family dinners at the table, without TV and all at the same time, because of the stress that comes with mealtime with small children. However, these moments are actually some of the best moments to use to teach our kids, and to learn more about them, and listen to everything they experienced throughout their day.
Our family dinners used to, and still can be, chaotic. When you gather several little kids and two tired parents around the dinner table after a long day, things do not always go as expected. With a little patience, we have tailored our family dinners to find the best fit for our family.
Why Family Dinners Are Important
There were times when I wanted to give up on these frustrating experiences around the table, and let everyone eat what they want and watch what they want…but then it hit me. The dinner table fiasco literally IS parenting, at its finest and its worst. Getting everyone back into the routine of finding time to come together and share a meal, setting phones and electronics down to really open ourselves up to conversation, trying new foods, and compromising over meals that not everyone is fond of, sharing in the work of preparation and cleanup, and really immersing ourselves into a discussion of what each family member experienced throughout their day, offering advice and listening without judgement… let alone all the memories to be made. Family dinner is the very core of family life.
I know that we are all busy, and schedules don’t make it easy, but over time, I realized a few changes we could make to help make these sit down dinners easier. By implementing these three tips, I think you can start seeing your family dinners become one of your most favorite parts of the week!
Use Conversation Starters During Dinner with Kids
Dinnertime can quickly turn into chaos because of the lack of structure. Having conversation at dinner is extremely beneficial. Some fun ideas are to use a conversation cup (everyone takes the cup, talks and then passes it on). You can even add little folded pieces of paper that have conversation prompts like “what are you grateful for today,” or “what is one goal you have for this month?” to help the cup holder if they find themselves stuck when it’s their turn.
Encourage family members to share one “high” and one “low” of their day. Discuss if anything was learned from either experience.
Take Turns Preparing Dinner As a Family
When your kids are old enough, ask for their help with dinner and the dishes. Eventually, they can even take over planning and preparing a meal. This is a great way to to teach practical life skills and encourage involvement of the family. Plus, you may find a hidden cooking talent in one of your kids! Our kids LOVE to do this! When it’s their turn to cook, we even give them a set budget, and then they peruse the weekly ads and put their own grocery list together. When we grocery shop for the week, they select all of the ingredients on the list. If they stay under budget, we let them keep the surplus money to split and spend as they want! It really boils down to them getting one-on-one time with you, and each other.
Mix Up the Dining Location
During a span of time where our family dinners seemed to constantly end in craziness, we decided to switch things up. Instead of eating around the table, we laid a blanket out on the living room floor and had a picnic dinner. Note- this works best with non messy dinners. Other ideas would be to eat outside, taking a picnic dinner to the park, moving to the dining room, or eating on the back porch. It is really good for our kids to see us being flexible and having fun with the everyday moments of life.
Switch Up Your Regular Dinners
My kids love when we have breakfast for dinner! Another fun idea that we enjoy as a special treat, generally when celebrating something, or on a Friday night, is Opposite Night. On Opposite Night, our kids are allowed to eat a (small) dessert of their choice first, followed by a healthy meal. Our family also loves Taco Tuesday (on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday–or any night!) when we set up a serve-yourself style Taco Bar in the dining room with everyone’s favorite taco ingredients, so the kids can make their own creations. Another fun idea is to allow kids to select the ingredients for meat and veggie kabobs that we then put on the grill while we throw a ball around the backyard. It’s fun to change things up, and get silly with mealtime once in a while!
Dinnertime can become something that you enjoy and your children treasure for years to come. They will remember the times when you talked about their highs & their fails. They will remember your encouragement and how you really listened when they talked.
Even though it can be a stressful time, especially in the little years, take the time to invest in these moments. Start trying these tips today and watch your mealtimes become less stressful!
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Comment below with your favorite part of family dinner!