We’ve all had those disastrous family dinners where no one seems to be having any fun.
See if any of this sounds familiar: Toddlers who are more interested in throwing food than eating it. School-age kids whining that they don’t like what’s on their plate. Silent, bored tweens who can’t wait to get to the TV. Teens (or parents!) checking their phones at the table.
And then there’s us, barking at everyone to just smarten up already!
If you’re finding family dinner to be a chore more than a delight these days, here are some ideas on how to jazz things up. We’re not saying you’ll be able to do this every day (who has the time?), but the occasional special dinner can do wonders to bring your family closer together.
Get Drawing – Buy a roll of white craft paper and cover your dining room table with it like a canvas (just like at a restaurant!). Everyone is encouraged to draw, write, express whatever they like – adults too – then share with everyone what their creation is all about. Maybe a game of hangman or tic-tac-toe before dessert?
Have a Backyard or Basement Campout – Sometimes all you need to do is get out of the same-old-routine rut to get everyone excited about family dinner again. Spread out a blanket, break out the plastic plates and cutlery and have dinner al fresco. If you have an easy-to-assemble tent you could dine in, even better!
Turn Off the Lights – Change things up and dine by candlelight. Put the juice in wineglasses, play some atmospheric tunes and pretend you’re on a Parisian sojourn. If you’ve got tweens or teens, nix the music and get everyone to tell their best ghost stories or urban legends.
Cook With the Kids – Don’t be afraid to put your children to work in the kitchen. Most kids LOVE to cook, and though you may not want them making everything, choose a couple of choice items for them to prepare with you. We love making custom smoothies for each family member – they’re easy, tasty and fun to whip up.
Make Your Own – Do-it-yourself meals can make even the most jaded tween happy. Lay out the ingredients on the dinner table and let your kids create their own masterpiece. Burritos, tacos and pizzas work beautifully with this concept. (We’ve also found that this is also a way to get your kids to try new foods.) Or do like ??? and a have healthy, make-your-own sundaes for Sunday brunch with fruit, nuts, yoghurt and oatmeal instead of ice cream.
Game On! – Make it a tradition to have a weekly game night with dinner. The possibilities are endless, and we’ve found the best games are often the ones you and your children make up. Just make sure the games don’t demand anything more than your voices and imaginations (no one needs dice or play money on the dinner table!). Here are some of our personal favourite goofy games:
- “Who am I?” One person thinks of a famous or fictional character to “be,” then gives hints as to gender, location, occupation, etc. until someone guesses right. For little kids, suggest they choose an animal or insect.
- “Storyline.” One family member starts an imaginary story by giving the first line, then the next person continues with another line, then the next, and so on. This can get silly, in a good way.
- “Three Wishes.” Ask a question of every family member, like, “If you had three wishes, what would they be?” Also works for superpowers or imaginary dinner guests.
- Challenge everyone to tell their best joke. The winner gets to choose the next table game.
Movie Night – Our kids LOVE a good movie night. Make it dinner and a movie once a week. Family members take turns choosing the movie, then talk about your favourite flicks during dinner. Everyone should save room for popcorn.
Everyone’s a Critic – Take advantage of your child’s love of movies, books, videogames and music and give him or her the opportunity to be a reviewer for a night. Everyone chooses something they read, watched or listened to and gives a review for the family, complete with a grade, from A+ to F.
Backwards Night – Have dessert first, then the main course, then salad. Backwards clothes and speaking also strongly recommended.