Meal time can be a lot of fun for the entire family–yes, ALL ages. But with busy schedules and more and more demands on our time, this can be quite a challenge. Not to mention, your older kids may moan and groan when you tell them you are all going to sit down to a meal together. However, there are many simple and creative ways that you can use to bring this tradition back into your household routine. Or, if you’ve never been able to incorporate it into your routine, maybe now is the time to start.
If you follow these easy steps, you’ll be able to have a stress-free meal that the entire family will enjoy TOGETHER. You will have the time to re-connect with the ones you love and the flexibility to adapt it to your schedule week after week. And, you may just find that everyone will begin to look forward to it.
Once a week, take a moment to view the family’s upcoming schedule. Meal times together do not have to be the last meal of the day. Bear in mind that we are re-inventing the “family dinner” to family “meal time.” Breakfast may be a better fit for your family or perhaps a lunch or brunch on Saturday or Sunday. Maybe an old fashioned “supper” on an early Sunday afternoon is the answer for you. No matter what meal or time of day, get it on the schedule and let everyone know where they are expected and at what time. Once you’ve decided on your day (or days) you will be incorporating the family meal, you are ready to move on to the next step.
Now you can plan your menu and make it easy. You can choose your family’s favorite go-to meal or you can order take out. You can have “breakfast” for dinner or a weekly sandwich night. You might want to do a “Taco Tuesday” or a designated “Pizza Night.” Remember, this is not as much about the food as it is about the experience. If you decide to prepare the meal at home, let the kids in on the decision making. They can either pick one dish to accompany the meal or they can take turns picking the entire meal. You can take a vote on it or you can let them take turns picking the take out restaurant, just involve them. And make sure you include them in on the preparation as well; even very young children can help set the table or wash the lettuce for a salad, toddlers especially enjoy helping to operate your salad spinner! This all builds confidence and camaraderie which are so important to your child’s development.
To create a fun atmosphere, you might like to set a pretty table. It’s simple to dress up your table with very pretty and inexpensive paper napkins, which can be found at your local grocer or even dollar store. If it’s football season, use football decorated napkins. If it’s close to Easter, use Easter napkins or use fun Easter napkins with eggs on them if you’re doing a breakfast or a dish with eggs in it. These napkins can be picked up at end of season sales for very discounted prices and used creatively throughout the year. There are many items around your home that you can use for a centerpiece that will also add to the experience. How about an edible centerpiece, such as a large bowl of fruit or platter of trimmed veggies arranged decoratively? Why not put dessert in the middle of the table on an elevated cake dish to entice picky eaters to finish their vegetables.
My sister started a tradition of doing a quick game of “best and worse.” This is where everyone around the table gets a chance to share with the rest of the family their best and worst moments of the day. There are many other similar activities you may want to use, just try not to turn this event into a lecture session. If there is an issue with one or more of the children, save it for after the meal is done.
Bonus Family Meal Time Ideas
1. Many schools today encourage parents of elementary-aged children to visit and share the lunch hour with their child. Schedule your lunch hour according to your child’s and bring in their favorite fast food for a special treat.
2. For your tweens to twenty-somethings, you can assign them a night of the week where they are the chef – they will love this! Help them out by giving them a basic outline to follow such as one protein, one vegetable, one starch and a dessert. Suggest that they make a list of ingredients that will be needed and take them shopping if it’s convenient. Everyone will look forward to “their” turn. Name this meal as “Chef (your child’s name) Choice Night.”
3. Create a rule that during the meal no phones are allowed and no T.V, either!
4. Consider inviting the grandparents over for lunch on a Saturday or for an old-fashioned Sunday dinner. Enjoy a nice meal with them while you all catch up. You don’t necessarily need to save these occasions just for holidays. It may seem a bit dated, but it will be time very well spent and mean a lot to them and you.