It happens every night. We gather at the table and eat dinner. There may be days when it resembles an episode of Wild Planet, but other days, it’s a marvelous opportunity to connect with each other and spend time together.
The only dinner I’ve ever taken a picture of seems to be Thanksgiving!
Growing up, dinnertime was an important part of my family’s day. All seven of us tucked in around our trestle table which filled the entire dining area. Our conversations were everything from intellectually stimulating, to uproariously funny! I have fond feelings about those times with my family. And when I had a family of my own, I knew I wanted that kind of dinnertime.
It’s precious real estate, everyone sitting around the table together, with time to talk and connect. And while there will inevitably be those times when someone is grumpy, or someone absolutely refuses to try the new chicken-whatever-it-is, or someone spills water all over everything, or someone bangs their elbow on their brother’s chair and has a mini-meltdown over it, (Just describing some typical nights at our house!) there are some things that can be done to try to make dinnertime a little lighter.
Here are a few of my tactics for lightening up dinnertime.
General Rules – There are a few things that we require in order to have a good experience at the dinner table. Here are our top three.
- Pray – There’s something uplifting about giving thanks for what is in front of you. I don’t ever want to forget how incredibly blessed we are to have such abundant food for our dinner. Taking a few minutes to give thanks for what we have and to ask for a few things we need is a great way to start a meal.
- Screen-free – This applies to televisions, computers, tablets, phones, games, etc. We have a “no screen” rule at the table. My husband and I leave our phones on the counter and don’t check them if a text chimes until after dinner is over.
- Taste Bites – It seems like there’s always going to be something that someone doesn’t like. I don’t force my kids to eat a giant helping of anything that they dislike. (I would gag if someone forced me to eat spare ribs. Just saying.) But I do ask that they eat one taste bite. If it’s something they’ve never had before, I remind them that they won’t know if they like it unless they try it. If it’s something that they’ve had 20 times and still don’t like, I remind them that tastes can change and that sometimes it takes tasting something several times before you get used to its flavor. That doesn’t mean we still don’t have some tears. But that’s our rule.
My husband snapped this picture of me at a Thanksgiving dinner. My big kids call it, “the mom face” and it often shows up when someone forgets they need to take a taste bite.
Conversation – The children are a captive audience! This is a great time for us to talk to each other and find out what is happening in our lives. Rather than the usual, “How was your day?” There are a few ways to make this more fun.
- High/Low – Ask each person to share the “high” and the “low” of their day. This can also be called Roses & Thorns, or I recently heard it called Sweet, Sour, and Service, adding a third question about someone you served or someone who served you that day. Another variation is Kind, Brave, Failed. You could come up with your own way to highlight a few events of the day.
- Question Jar – Many years ago, my sister-in-law gave us this jar full of questions. Each person pulls a slip of paper out of the jar and answers the question on the slip. Questions include, “Tell about a favorite memory with your grandparents,” and “Describe the perfect summer day.” It’s fun to see what everyone comes up with!
Games – Dinnertime can be FUN, right? We have a few favorite games that we like to play around the dinner table. Most of these I used to play with my older children, but now that the little boys are getting older, we’re beginning to play them with the two of them as well.
- The ABC Game – The 6-year-olds love this one right now! We choose a topic, often corresponding to the current season we are in or holiday we are near. Then we take turns in alphabetical order, naming something that goes with that topic. For example, when we did the “Christmas ABCs” we came up with “angel” for A and “Bethlehem” for B, etc.
- Story-Go-Round – This is a favorite around campfire dinnertime, but can be played at home too. One person begins telling a story. After a minute or two, they say, “And then…” and the next person picks up telling the story. Doing this with little boys is a riot! They have pretty crazy imaginations!
- I’m Going On A Trip – I’ve just started doing this one with the boys and we don’t ever get too far, but it’s fun! One person says, “I’m going on a trip and I’m taking a…” and they name an item. The next person says, “I’m going on a trip and I’m taking a…” then they repeat the first item and add a second one. You keep going until someone forgets one of the items! To make it a bit easier, sometimes we have the items go in alphabetical order. It’s great for the memory too!
- Name That Movie – My older kids used to love to play this one. One person says a quote from a movie and the other people have to guess which movie it’s from. Bonus points if you say the quote in the same voice as the character! (Of course, my older children and I used to have entire dinner conversations using the accent of our choice that night… but that’s another story….)
Education – No, you don’t have to grill your family on the times tables or make them recite all the countries in Africa, but it’s fun to use a little table time to learn something.
- Did You Know? – Especially when children are small and are little sponges soaking up all kinds of new knowledge, this is a fun one to do. Let your kids’ interests or questions lead you, or just think of something you think they might find interesting. Just tonight I was explaining to the Kindergartners what elements are and that water is made out of hydrogen and oxygen. They were fascinated. We’ve also discussed how weather happens, and how plants grow, and who Martin Luther King, Jr. was, and yep, even human reproduction. There’s lots to learn.
- Foreign Language – Dinnertime is a fun time to learn words in a foreign language. We’re busy trying to learn a handful of Italian words for a trip to Rome this year. It’s fun saying, “per favore” and “grazie” and “prego” as we pass things to each other at the table.
Make It Special – Sometimes it fun to do something a little extra special at the dinner table. Nothing that takes hours to prepare or drains your bank account! Just simple little traditions that make dinnertime just a tiny bit more fun.
- Candles – Every Sunday we put candles on the table. I found a set of pewter candlesticks at an antique store for a steal of a deal and we put long taper candles in them. It’s extra special to have candles for our sabbath meal.
- Pizza Night – Years ago, when I was a single mom of two little kids, working two jobs, I instituted Friday Night Pizza Night. It was really for me, because by the end of the week, I just couldn’t even think about planning or preparing dinner. But my kids loved it and it stuck. Even now, with the little boys, Friday night is still pizza night. Though, with a little more time in the pre-dinner hours, I’m attempting to perfect my homemade-on-a-pizza-stone recipe. It’s just nice to have one night a week I don’t have to think about what to make! This could also be Taco Tuesday, or Soup Sunday… whatever you’d like to become a tradition in your family.
- Breakfast For Dinner – C’mon, you do it too, right? Every once in a while, we flip the meals on their heads and have breakfast for dinner. Waffles, eggs, bacon, potatoes, fruit, all the fixin’s. My boys think it’s hysterical.
- Holiday Food Traditions – Oh, this could be a post all on it’s own! I’m a sucker for making special foods for holidays. We have strawberry crepes for Christmas Eve breakfast. I make Russian Easter Bread (kulich) for Easter. We try new foods for New Year’s Eve. And we must eat watermelon on the 4th of July. It’s fun to have a tradition of eating something special for a holiday dinner (or any other meal!)
Thoroughly enjoying the 4th of July watermelon… on the porch!
As I mentioned at the beginning, I know that there are going to be nights when dinnertime seems anything but light. Not too long ago I texted a friend and said, “I just want a night when no one cries when they see what I put on the dinner table!” Right??
But hopefully these are a few ideas that can help make dinnertime a little lighter in your house. They have definitely helped in mine!
Do you have ways that you make dinnertime light?