On a recent episode of Anderson Cooper’s daytime talk show, the personable host talked about his own issues with food, and brought up a topic that has been much discussed of late: the family dinner. He began a 5-Day Family Dinner Challenge. What’s the challenge? For 5 nights in a row, cook and eat dinner together as a family. He set the following ground rules:
1) No one can be late
2) No TV or cell phones
3) Everyone has to try everything
4) Every night during dinner, play one game.
For busy moms and dads out there, this type of challenge can seem overwhelming. Many of us struggle to get a balanced meal on the table in a timely fashion, never mind making sure that each member of the family is present and accounted for. Also, Norman Rockwell paintings aside, I’ve yet to see a family with teenagers that doesn’t include at least one sullen face, accompanied by short, terse answers. It’s not exactly a formula that cries out success, is it? Don’t despair – the challenge is not as tough as it seems, and it can be downright fun! Here are some great idea to get you started, and if you’ve decided to take the challenge, let us know!
- Don’t Get Bogged Down in the Details – Sometimes, the thought of creating an impressive, memorable family meal can be overwhelming. It doesn’t need to be this way. Many times, our kids remember not the effort we put into an event, but the memories created. Instead of trying to make everything from scratch, grab a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket and fresh salad ingredients. You can do a taco bar or a burrito bar, or even a pot of chili.
- Think Outside the Box – Some nights, dinner just isn’t meant to be. The important part is to eat together, not so much what you are eating. Make breakfast for dinner. Have cheese and crackers and veggies with a healthy dip. Opt for fast baked potatoes topped with leftover stew or grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.
- Simple Games – Again, no need to be elaborate. Maybe play a game of Twenty Questions, or a rousing game of Go Fish while you eat taco soup.
- Ask Leading Questions – Ask a “yes or no?” question, and get a yes or no answer. Instead, choose more complicated questions. I often ask my kids to tell me 3 good things about their day. Then, and only then, can they tell me one bad thing. They often get so involved in explaining the good stuff that they forget the bad. It’s a terrific conversation starter. If this isn’t successful in your family, pick up a box of conversation starters. They are leading questions designed to get the conversation rolling.
- Let the Kids Help – I will often ask my kids to help me prepare dinner. When I’m chopping the carrots, I purposely peel a few extras and hand them over. The kids are so busy talking that they often just take the carrots without thinking and start eating. Score! I’ve just added a veggie serving painlessly. This takes some of the pressure off of the dinner to be completely balanced.