I think everyone has some elements of family dinner that are great but they wish for a little more dinner organization, better meals, more interesting conversation or help with prep and clean up. They wish dinner was a better family experience for everyone.
The first thing that makes dinner a success is the meal. If you stress about what to make or the prep, you will never enjoy the family dinner time. If it is a constant stumbling block for you, take a break and check out one of the places, like Dream Dinners or Let’s Dish, that help you prepare multiple meals you can pull out of the freezer. Or at the beginning of each week, get out your calendar and make menus for the entire week. Since you know what you’re making, you’ll be prepared and not stressed everyday at 4 p.m. — and you’ll save a ton of money at the grocery store!
Carina Smith, writer of Kitchen Groovy blog, uses a list of meals that her pickiest eater will eat without complaint and starts her meal planning from that. She also tries to put variations on those meals to eliminate boredom and maybe even introduce something new to the pickiest in a very safe way.
Cookbook author and blogger at La Fuji Mama, Rachael Hutchings, suggests that dinner can be a fun and educational experience for the whole family.
“Choose a country to learn about and serve food from that country, and talk about the country and its customs with your family,” said Hutchings.
We tried this at home after the tsunami. We had a Thai curry dish and talked about Thailand, the impact of the tsunami, their topography. Everyone listened and ate with gusto — no complaints, even though it was a very different dinner than we normal have.
The Smith family improved dinner time by opting out of the clean-plate club, taking the pressure off of everyone.
“Another thing — I know it’s easy for some parents to battle with their kids about making them finish all of their food. We used to when the kids were very young, and it was awful. But then we changed strategies and we just let them eat how much they wanted — it made a big, big difference. I think they appreciate good food even more so now,” says Smith.
The time at the table is just as important as what’s on it to eat. Recent studies have expounded on the benefits of the family dinner. Cate Mezyk, mom of three and blogger at Wild Ruffle, says they always start their family dinners the same way, with prayer. Shellina Guthrie, blogger at the Frugal Flambe, says, “My family used to do a ‘highs and lows’ check-in every night at supper. We’d go around the table, and each person would share the high point of their day, and then the low point. It’s a great way to engage your family in positive conversation.”
There are several companies who are also trying to help make dinner time more fun. Family Time Fun has created a series of “Dinner Games” — one for younger kids and one for older. These games are interactive and fun– and sometimes even involve the food. Table Topics is another company making dinner conversation. Table Topics provides you a box of questions to create stimulating discussions around the table. Check out sample questions on their website.
The worst part of dinnertime for me is clean up (unless my husband is in town)! This part of dinner shouldn’t fall on parents alone. Even young children can bring their plates to the sink, wash dishes or help load the dishwasher. That being said, they can be awfully helpful with prep, too. The more you involve the entire family in prep and clean up, the more they will be engaged with dinner.
Two of the bloggers mentioned were kind enough to share recipes that are favorites of their family. Try something new– maybe one of these. And fill me in, leave a comment, or even provide a family pleasing recipe from your repertoire!
Miso Soup with Butternut Squash, Poached Eggs and Spinach from Rachael at La Fuji Mama
Pork and Pineapple Stay from Shellina at The Frugal Flambe
Meet Carina Smith at Kitchen Groovy
Meet Cate Mezyk at Wild Ruffle
Dinner Games – Family Fun Times Games and Table Topics Family