Growing up with a single mom, thousands of miles away from our relatives, meant there weren’t many opportunities for large family dinners. Most of our evenings were spent Gilmore Girls-style eating takeout on the couch and watching our fave shows from the DVR. Now that I have a family of my own, it feels abnormal to sit down together at a dinner table without the TV on. Especially since my kids are curious toddlers who rarely sit still for longer than 60 seconds. I had little to no experience on how to make dinnertime fun and engaging for my kids, so instead I turned to my fellow editors and experienced moms for their advice.
First, I had to take their age into consideration when planning to alter our usual evening chaos. Since they are so young, I can’t expect them to stay seated for an extended period of time without effort. It’s important to understand your specific child’s capabilities and adjust your preconceived expectations accordingly (this can be applied to every aspect of parenthood IMO). Yes, bonding over dinner is wonderful for a family’s overall dynamic and health—but putting pressure on ourselves and our kids is not. Keeping that in mind, we tried out the following tips and were pleasantly surprised when they worked! So, here are five ways to make family dinner more enjoyable for the whole family.
Read a book they love
Reading has always been the easiest way to capture my kids’ attention. As a life-long reader, I love to get animated when I read their favorite books so it becomes a full experience for them. I took our team’s suggestion to introduce a new book to my kids during dinner last week, and to my surprise, they sat through their entire meal.
We read This is a Story by John Schu and Lauren Castillo, which perfectly encapsulates how literature empowers children and expands their passion for the world around them. It’s simply written so small kids can easily follow along. But it still manages to convey how important libraries are to our communities and that reading connects us all despite our differences. We’ve made it our “dinnertime book” so the kids are excited to sit, listen, and eat with us each evening.
Play an engaging game
Board games, question games, or storytelling games are all great options for making dinner more gratifying. You can play simple games like Would You Rather, I Spy, or 20 Questions. Prompts like this are helpful for long days where everyone is feeling a little burned out on socialization. If you feel like you’ve been asking the same “how was school today” type of questions every time you sit down for dinner, this will be the perfect solution. Who knows, you may learn something new about the little human sitting across from you.
Involve them in making dinner
Kids are curious and always eager to learn whether we realize it or not. Cooking with them may take extra patience on your end (especially if your kids are younger), but it will help them learn valuable life skills and even early math concepts. Measuring out ingredients, practicing fractions, and seeing how certain foods mix together are all STEM related activities. And equally importantly, every human should know how to cook basic meals for themselves, so start the habit early on. Kids will also be more excited to eat a meal that they had a hand in preparing.
Let them choose them a task
Kids spend so much of their day following instructions and oftentimes feel like they have no power over their decisions. It’s understandable why they may feel frustrated to be forced to sit down and eat during the limited time of after-school freedom they have. Provide them with opportunities to feel more in charge of dinner by presenting them with different tasks to choose from. Jobs can range from setting the table, serving the food, picking the dinner playlist, choosing a game or book, or pretty much anything else an adult would usually do.
Respect their preferences
Many parents are familiar with the downsides of having a picky eater, but at the end of the day, we can’t force our kids to eat food they straight up don’t like. It’s normal for everyone to have their own preferences. I know I get the craziest looks when I say I don’t like pickles or peanut butter, but I can’t control what flavors my taste buds reject. Neither can our kids.
Yes, we should encourage them to try new things but pressuring them will only make them dread sitting down for dinner. However, cooking five different meals also isn’t a feasible option for most families. We suggest letting your kids make their own side dish or simple meal (like a sandwich or chicken nuggets) if they don’t like what’s on the menu that evening. This way they can eat what they want without adding extra work to your plate.
This post contains a sponsored inclusion of Candlewick, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board. We only recommend products we genuinely love.