I don’t know about you and how your family does dinner time, but if it’s anything like what we have going on over here then you know it takes creativity and strategy to make it a success. Aaron and I tend to watch a mini circus act unfold (i.e. climbing up on the table, wiggling in/off our chairs, getting up from the table several times, lack of interest in eating, etc..) if we aren’t on beat in making dinner time a victory for all. What does that look exactly? Good question. Over here we call it a celebratory dinner when food was eaten, time was enjoyed, and no one ended up dancing on the table mid bite (although cute at times, there is a time and a place littlest one). Dinner is such a wonderful time to wind down from the day, replenish the body, and reconnect. So we strive to make it an experience, that while is routine, is something everyone looks forward to.
A list of things we do to help set a successful table:
- This may vary depending on what’s going on and the moods of the girls but we try to set the tone by; shutting down all technology (television, iPads, etc.), turning on our favorite playlist, and gather the girls to either help with dinner or enjoy in some quiet play. We have found the more stimulated they are when it’s time to eat, the less enjoyable and successful dinner time is. So we try really hard to keep the television off and discontinue playtime with friends/neighbors 30 mins before dinner. This way, it feels like we aren’t “pulling them away” or distracting them from something their enjoying too much, which means they come to the table happier.
- No snacks before dinner. We do our best to hold off on giving them food an hour before dinner. It’s all about bringing those hungry tummies to the table!
- Setting the table. Our two oldest girls are old enough now to where they can take part in most, if not all, the preparation for dinner. This may look different from time to time depending on the season and what’s on the menu for the night, but for the most part, the girls are in charge of making sure the table is set.
- Consistency. Like everything else that comes with parenting and taking care of little humans, consistency is huge in setting tone and expectations. For them and for us. When we stick to our meal time schedule the girls always eat better.
- Family time after dinner is a big one. It’s like dessert after dinner only better because it’s US. Having something they look forward to post dinner is a good motivator for them. Our family time usually looks like a lot like a family walk, playtime in the backyard, free play, or watching a favorite movie/show together.
- DINNER GAMES – This is our secret ingredient to keeping the girls at the table and eating. DINNER GAMES = GAME CHANGER folks. It tends to distract them to eat, especially if we’re serving something they aren’t super thrilled about. Playing a game gets them focused and distracted from the meals they aren’t digging so much. It works like a charm most nights. Although, we have our share of moments too. I’ve shared some of our favorite games below. What I love most about these dinner games is that they don’t require anything other than conversation. The games we play are simply about connection and learning more about each other. Which is what dinner time is about!
– Dinner Games for the Family –
- “Would you rather?” : This is a favorite of my girls. Each person takes a turn to ask everyone around the table “would you rather be a this or a that?” and everyone gets to have a turn. We usually pick a theme when playing this game (i.e. animals, food, nature, etc… ).
- Ask each person at the table, “what their favorite part of the day was and why?” : sometimes we take this a bit further and will follow up with “what would you change about today and why?”
- Person, Place, Thing : It’s best to narrow this down a bit and make categories for each subject. For example; maybe you only do “persons” in the family or “persons” in a certain movie, etc. That way it’s a little easier for the little ones to play and to “win” at guessing something right. But basically you describe a person, place, and a thing and each person gets a turn at solving it.
- “What are you most thankful for today and why?” : each person gets a turn around the table to share what they are most thankful for that day.
- The Guessing Game: pick a category (i.e. color, numbers 1-20, type of fruit/vegetable, etc.). Each person has a turn to pick something they are thinking about and the others try to guess what it is.
- Share one thing that you liked what about each person that day : This is pretty self explanatory. Each person gets a turn to share one thing about each member of the family at the dinner table what they liked about them today and why? Could be something they did, said, etc… I love this one especially on the really hard days.
- “What can you make with your food?”: Depending on what is served, we may challenge the girls to make certain shapes or spell a word using the food on their plate. This works really well with mash potatoes, pasta, etc. and encourages them to engage with their food. We only ask that if they take on the challenge they have to eat the food they used.
- The Alphabet Picnic Game : This is another favorite of the girls. For those that are not familiar, you start this game by saying “I’m going on a picnic and I’m gong to bring… ” the first person to go completes the sentence using a word that starts with the letter A. The next person repeats what the first person said and adds something that starts with the letter B and so on. This is good for both memory and letter/word recognition.
What are some of your family meal time traditions? Any new games we should add to our list? We would love to hear what you have to say about meal time with your family. Also I’ll be back yet tomorrow to share something we started just last night for the month of November. The girls are pretty excited about it!