Love Your Family Dinners
No Screens Necessary: 6 Tips for Keeping Kids at The Dinner Table
From early childhood through the teenage years, it can be a chore to keep the kids at the dinner table. Yes, the reasons change, but they always seem to have an excuse for leaving the table early. No matter how much of a pain it can be, getting family together for a meal is an important part of staying involved in each other’s lives. Use these strategies to break the cycle of skipping family dinners and ensure your children get the nutrition they need – with a side of family bonding!
1. Hire Your Very Own Sous Chef
Start involving your kids in the kitchen early. By doing so, you can inspire a lifelong love of cooking, or, at the very least, introduce a healthy mealtime into their daily routine. Plus, when they see the amount of work that goes into their dinner, they just might appreciate it more!
Try This: Keep the knife work and heated cooking to yourself; kids of all ages can safely get involved in other tasks! Let them mix a sauce, wash vegetables, or set and clear the table. Keeping their responsibilities consistent is a great way to set expectations – and avoid complaints.
2. Write A Dining Room Rulebook
As with any aspect of parenting, it’s important to have firm rules around the dinner table. This can range from making sure hands have been washed before mealtime to banning screens until everyone has finished eating. Consistency is key here as well!
Try This: When you set out the dishes, include one empty bowl where everyone can put their phones until the meal is over. You can even consider returning the phones a “healthy” replacement for dessert!
3. Balance Pressure with Patience
Trying new foods can be difficult for kids. It’s hard to explain why a fungus that grows in the dirt should be on their pizza. Maybe they’ll grow into certain foods, but maybe they won’t. Experts say you should avoid forcing your child to eat something they don’t like, as it will only make dinnertime more complicated as they get older and have a big list of foods they’ll “never, ever eat.”
Try This: The phrase “just one bite” has helped many parents introduce new foods into their kids’ diets. Trying that initial bite at a few consecutive meals shows kids that scary foods aren’t so scary. Positive reinforcement is also a useful tool. Tell them they can have a juice box or pick their own dessert if they try a bite of the new dish.
4. Set the Ever-Important Ambiance
Restaurants are well aware that a little mood music can make a meal better. Why not add some to your own dining room? Try selecting a genre of music that’s relevant to the night’s cuisine, and it’ll serve as a nice backdrop for friendly conversation.
Try This: Rotate DJs so everyone has a night each week where they can share their favorite tunes. Make sure you have an agreed upon volume level for the music so everyone can still enjoy the conversation!
5. Make the Menu Theirs
Give kids a meal to look forward to! Pick one or two days a week for your child to plan a meal for the family. This is an easy way to make sure they’ll like what’s on their plates, and it’s an easy introduction to the meal planning process that becomes a regular part of adult life.
Try This: For teenage kids that are old enough to drive, you can even have them do the grocery shopping for the meals they choose. It’s a great habit to set as they inch closer to adult life (+ a chore off of your plate)!
6. Create a Healthy Dinner Discourse
Just as important as the appetizer and the main, conversation can make any meal enjoyable and engaging. If no one is in the mood for talking, just turn up the music a little bit so everyone can sway, head nod, and play silverware drums together.
Try This: Find a list of conversation starters that would be relevant to the age of your kids. Once you get the, “How was your day?” out of the way, pick a new topic from the list. It’s a great way to get kids talking and learning more about one another.