5 Ideas to Make Family Dinner Special

Studies have found that when families regularly have dinner together, children make healthier food choices, get better grades, and experience less personal stress. However, most of all, taking time to be together as a family at the dinner table leads to better family relationships, which positively influences every aspect of our lives, even as we grow up, face new challenges, and continue to rely on a positive social support network.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. Oftentimes, it takes masterful coordinating skills just to get everyone home and sitting down in the kitchen at the same time. Sometimes, small fights and irritations can make family dinner an anxiety-filled event. I understand! Getting everyone to eat the same thing, and stay off of their cellphones can be a herculean undertaking.

However, hang in there. It’s worth it! To help you on your way, here are five ideas that can help make family dinner special, and bring everyone to the table once again.

1: Make the Meal Together

In most families, there’s just one person who’s usually responsible for dinner. Moreover, it’s usually the mother. Also, if that mother has any responsibilities outside of homemaking duties (hint: she always does), it can be a lot to handle! Moreover, when just one person is the “default” cook, it can foster complacency in everyone else. They don’t realize what that other person is sacrificing and how much effort they put into it.

So maybe it’s time to switch up the story. Have a special dinner that dad made. Explore a new recipe with your teen and make it together. Bonus: this will teach essential life skills to kids, too. You can even enlist the help of little ones by giving them busy-work tasks like peeling potatoes, rinsing lettuce, or toasting bread.

And then there are meals that you can ultimately make collectively, as a family. How about mini pizzas where everyone gets to decide what they want on their own? How about making pasta from scratch together?

2: Eat Outside

Something about eating outside automatically makes it feel like a party. When the weather permits, think about moving dinner outdoors. Don’t have an appropriate outdoor table? Make picnic-appropriate foods and lay a blanket or two out on the lawn. If you want to step it up a little, you can work on building up an outdoor kitchen that will have everything you need to make this a monthly occurrence. You might even have a grill or firepit where you can eat fun things together like shish kebabs or roast-your-own-hot dogs.

3: Themed Questions

The standard family question goes as follows: “How was school today?” The kids have heard it all before. Also, it gets boring. Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to catch up with each other over these dinners together. And usually, the easiest way to do it is through that go-to question. However, if you have children that aren’t communicating as readily as they used to, maybe it’s time to rephrase the questions and direct the dinner conversation a little differently. Encourage people to get more in-depth about their challenges and victories. Alternatively, move the topic away from the events of the day altogether, and simply enjoy a conversation together about… each other! Or nothing at all. Here are some ideas, just to get you started:

  • What was your biggest failure of the day, and what can you learn about it?
  • What are you excited about tomorrow?
  • If (Mom/Dad/each member of the family) was a fruit, (he/she) would be a…
  • “Would you rather” questions.
  • Where should we go on our next family vacation?
  • What’s your zombie-apocalypse survival plan?
  • Who’s your favorite teacher you’ve ever had?

4: Use the fancy dishes

You know that set of beautiful china that you have gathering dust in the back of a closet? Maybe it’s time to get some mileage out of it. Once your children no longer think it’s fun to throw food on the ground and hit their bowl repeatedly with their spoon, they can probably handle the more delicate dishes. Set the table beautifully beforehand, and maybe even teach your children some etiquette lessons about how to use multiple forks appropriately. This probably isn’t an every-night sort of goal, but it could be a wonderful weekly tradition. For example, making Sunday dinner together special with fancy dishes is a great way to have at least one day a week where everyone’s there.

5: Invite a guest

Isn’t it interesting how much your family dynamic can change with just one outsider in the mix? Oftentimes, children might think of having a guest at the dinner table as a scary, formal thing. However, it doesn’t have to be that way! Make a regular habit of inviting a special dinner guest every now and then. It doesn’t just have to be extended family and friends of the parents. Let the children take their turn inviting a special friend as well. It’s true that often we end up with random extra friends at the dinner table anyway, but it’s more special when it’s planned ahead of time.
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