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One of the things that I remember most about my childhood was sitting around the table with my family for a meal.
All 5 of us gathered for big bowls of cereal every morning before school. Sometimes my dad picked us up from school and we ate lunch at home. And every evening we had dinner together. No matter what meal it was, I remember the good feeling of being together.
Now that I have kids of my own, dinnertime is super important to me. Not just as a time to eat, but a time to build relationships and connect with my family.
Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D., an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at the Harvard Medical School and Director of Family and Couples Therapy at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, says this about family dinners from her article on the subject at PBS.org –
Over the last 15 years, a large number of scientific studies have confirmed what parents have known intuitively for a long time: sitting down to a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain, and the body. Recent studies link regular family dinners (5 or more meals a week) with a host of teenage behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Dinner conversation is a great booster of vocabulary for young children, and stories told around the table about parents and grandparents help to build self-esteem and resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children.
But you might be wondering, how do I create a positive experience at the dinner table? In my own home, our mealtimes are often laden with tears from picky eaters, wiggles from antsy kids, or tired parents just wanting to get everyone to bedtime already.
Here are 5 simple and fun ways you can make mealtime meaningful – even if your kids don’t like what’s on the menu. 🙂
Make the Centerpiece
Invite your child to make the centerpiece for that evening’s meal. This can be done creatively using blocks or toys, or more traditionally by picking flowers or choosing a seasonal theme. Letting your kids create a special table helps them invest in the mealtime ahead. My son, Noah, likes to set the table and pretend it’s a restaurant. Once he made a centerpiece out of every. single. condiment. in. the. fridge.
Light a Candle
The simple act of lighting a candle is a pause that sets dinnertime aside as something special in the day. Dim the lights and create an atmosphere that says, “You are welcome here!” I have seen some families celebrate milestone moments of family members (a good grade, a starring role in the play, being a kind friend) by lighting a Candle of Honor for him/her. You can see some of my favorite candles HERE. But don’t forget to leave all that distracting technology behind – smart phone glow just doesn’t have the same warmth as a candle. 🙂
We love starting every mealtime by saying grace. Sometimes I say it, sometimes Mr. B. leads us, and sometimes we ask the boys to pray before the meal. Growing up my family had 2-3 memorized prayers that we would recite together (you can find some simple prayers to pray before a meal HERE) and my preschool class always sang a special grace before snack and lunchtime. You could have everyone raise a glass and clink them together at the start of your meal. Whatever you choose, meaningful beginnings to mealtimes can start everyone on a positive and unified note.
I love guiding our mealtime conversation by asking fun questions or by playing the game High/Low. The High/Low Game is when you go around the table and ask everyone to share the best (high) part of their day as well as the worst (low) part of the day. This has sparked some deep conversations as we process the things that happened to us during the day. Dinnertime has also been a great place for family devotions. Mr. B. has been teaching us the Heidelberg Catechism using THIS great resource for kids (affiliate link). For fun, I occasionally bring in some printable conversation cards. Pssst — GUESS WHAT?! If you become an email subscriber to my site, you will get a whole set of creative, engaging, biblically-based mealtime conversation cards for your family to enjoy! Click HERE to check it out!
Isn’t it true that good food can be synonymous with home? My mom always had yummy meals for us – even though she was a working mom. I honestly don’t know how she did it. I work full time too and my kids only know scrambled eggs, Annie’s mac and cheese, and chicken nuggets. There is grace for it because being together is so much more important than what’s on everybody’s plates. But on a good week I do try to make something home cooked for at least 3 meals, with the rest being grace-covered beige items. I hope that when my kids grow up they remember with fondness coming to the table for my famous Cheesy Lasagna or Honey Garlic Pork Chops.
Who am I kidding? They will probably only remember the Mickey-shaped nuggets from BJ’s. Mom is so good at turning on that oven. 😉
When I was little, we had pizza every Wednesday night. I could not WAIT for Wednesdays. Now we do the same thing, but on Friday nights when I am too tired from a week of school to make anything elaborate! Everyone is happy and it ends our week strong. Some families have Taco Tuesdays or Saturday morning pancakes. Other fun traditions might include having assigned seating, using special plates, having themed nights or celebrating holidays, reading a book during the meal, or playing a special game. We sometimes play Sequence for Kids (affiliate link) while we eat and it is so much fun. You can find a list of creative Dinner Game Ideas HERE and HERE.
So as the back to school season is gearing up and you are considering your kids’ schedules, I encourage you to preserve mealtime as an important part of your family’s daily life.
And if the kids fuss about the menu or spend more time falling out of their chairs than staying put, just light that candle, pop open a bottle of wine, and enjoy those monkeys! At least you are together! 😉