If your life is anything like mine, then dinnertime is…well…shall we say…CHAOTIC (though nightmarish, stressful, and tumultuous came to mind as well). It's a hard time of the day – everyone is hungry, tired from a long day, in a rush to quickly get things done before bedtime, and it's often a time filled with sports, homework, and bustling from one activity to another. BUT…As crazy as dinnertime can be, I am a firm believer that a happy family is formed at the dinner table.
This week's Focus on Relationships challenge is the “Dinner Together Challenge”. Every day this week, come hell or high-water, make it a point to sit down and EAT together. It might only be for 5 minutes and it might be Wendy's straight from the bag, but it will be together…and that's what matters. To help this be a positive and successful experience for you, here are 5 simple tips for making dinnertime a positive experience for your whole family (especially YOU):
1. Make a good meal.
The way to a man's heart is through his stomach, right? Well, chances are it's the way to your kids' hearts too! Who doesn't love good home cookin'? Food is more than fuel, it's a legacy and imprint you leave behind. My friend recently said, “I feel bad…my husband and I have so many ‘oh my mom makes the best…' or ‘my grandma's ___ was the best you've ever tasted…'. But I don't think my kids could say that about me! I'm going to change that.” Profound, no?
Believe me, I am NO cook. In fact, I don't even really like to cook. At this point in my life, it's just one more thing to do/clean up after at the end of the day. But I believe in the power of a good meal. If you feed your family the same 3 things day in and day out, or if it's frozen, pre-made, or comes from a box, chances are dinnertime will most likely NOT be something your family looks forward to. I have learned that homemade meals don't have to take any more time than pre-made or frozen ones!
Here are a few simple sub-tips to help make sure good, homemade meals happen with ease:
- Plan your menu at least 1 week ahead, preferably two.
- Set a “theme” for each day to make it easy. Mexican Monday. Italian Tuesday. Soup Wednesday.
- Double and freeze! If you cook once, double it and freeze it for heaven's sake! You're already taking the time to do it! Then on a busy day when you forget to plan out dinner, pull it from the freezer, stick it in the oven – frozen and all – and let it bake until it's done.
- GO EASY. If the meals are hard or labor-intensive, you'll burn out quickly. Crockpot, crockpot, crockpot! Casseroles you can assemble the night before are easy too.
- Share the load! Have your spouse and even kids help with dinner. Assign them to cook portions of the meal, or prep the food the night before. Enlist help, especially with clean-up!
- Use what you have. I like allrecipes.com because I can search for recipes by ingredient. Look at what you have in your pantry and fridge, and make something out of that rather than running to the store (who has time for that on a busy day?) make recipes using what you have to simplify your life.
- Make it affordable! Only go grocery shopping 1x per week no matter what, and buy/plan your meals around what's on sale. Lots of details on how I do this HERE.
Get TONS of meal planning ideas and free printables HERE.
2. Be consistent.
If your family doesn't know what time dinner is served, or what days you'll be cooking dinner, you'll find your family will “grab something” on the way home, or start snacking then not be hungry when mealtime comes, or they'll make food themselves without waiting for you. Pick a time for dinner and stick to it! My mom was a great example of this. She always made it a point to cook a homemade meal every day, and she would have the table set and the food ready and waiting at 5:30, even if no one was home to eat it. Whether we had to grab and run, or whether we could sit and enjoy, some days it was no one, some days it was the entire JV basketball team to dinner. Regardless of the situation, we always knew it would be there for us.
Another idea…put your meal menu for the week, 2 weeks, or even for the month on the fridge for all to see. It helps avoid the 1,103,173 “what's for dinner??” questions and opinions, keeps us organized, and also keeps us accountable and helps avoid a last-minute takeout run because we don't know what to cook for dinner.
This one is hard for me, hence the Unplug Challenge this month. I tend to keep my phone in my back pocket at all times. If I get a text, email, or call, guess what happens? BING! I'm on it within a moment's notice…even at dinner (shame, shame, Jordan!). I've learned I have to physically remove myself from my phone to avoid the distraction and temptation of it. Get a basket, decorate it cute if you must, and require every person at the table to literally hand over all electronics until dinner is over. Try it, I dare you. You'll be AMAZED at the conversations that flow once everyone is unplugged. And yes, that includes turning off the TV and music.
4. Harbor good conversation.
Talk. Chit chat. Catch up. Blab. Gab. Stutter for all I care. For heaven's sake, just start talking! I'm amazed at the amount of times I go to dinner with my family, look around, and see people eating in absolute silence. Mealtime is the best time to let the cares of the world hide for a moment and enjoy pure QT with the ones you love! Conversing can be hard, so here are a few ideas to help:
We have a new tradition at dinner. It's called, “Sweet, sour, and service”. I got the idea from my SIL. Everyone takes turns telling something sweet that happened to them that day, sour, and how they helped someone that day. It's a GREAT way to get the conversations flowing…yes, even with our 4 and 2.5 year olds. Beck can't talk yet so we have our big kids pretend to have him tell us what his SS&S's were for that day. It's pretty cute.
There are lots of great books and games out there to help get the conversations started at the dinner table like THIS ONE:
Or THIS GAME to help get conversations started:
Or THIS ONE
Or make up your own! Get your kids involved and sit down for family night one night and come up with as many crazy, sentimental, or normal questions as you can. One question might take you all dinner long, so you probably don't need to many to get the conversation juices flowing.
5. Make it fun!
Make cooking dinner fun. Sing. Play music. ENJOY EACH OTHER! In our family, we have #PageDanceParties galore (if you haven't noticed on Instagram…see HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE for recent examples). It's a way to lighten the mood in the kitchen and make mealtimes so much FUN, as Bubba shares HERE. It's a breath of fresh air for Bubba or I to come home after a long day and walk into an atmosphere of energy and brightness. Dance parties help, I promise 🙂 Same with clean-up! It doesn't have to be a battle, or be a source of contention or dread. Haven't you seen Mary Poppins?
…aaaaaand…SNAP! The job's a game.
Add some sugar to your medicine and it will taste much better, I promise. Mary says so.
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So you see? Just put a little more thought into your mealtimes as a family, and it will pay off for generations to come. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a #PageDanceParty to attend.
What do YOU do to make your family dinnertime enjoyable? Leave a comment and share, I'd love to hear from you!