Today, September 24th is National Eat Dinner with your Family Day. I am a HUGE proponent of families spending more time in the kitchen and around the table together to connect, laugh and create memories. In honor of today’s “holiday” I wanted to share some of my past posts on how to schedule more family dinners together and how to have more fun once you’re gathered. Are you planning on eating together as a family tonight?
If you aren’t sure what to make for dinner, I’ve found some great recipes and inspiration for fast, healthy, and easy dinners on Pinterest. I’m happy to share my finds so check out and feel free to follow my Recipes for Family Dinners Board.
How do you get your family to the dinner table? Have fun eating together as a family tonight!
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Moms, meet your new best friend. I was lucky enough to meet Katie Workman last week at a charity event. Who is Katie Workman, you ask? She’s the author of the new Mom 100 Cookbook which offers 100 recipes every Mom needs in her back pocket. If you struggle like I do to get a healthy family dinner on the table every night, this cookbook will become your “go-to” source for inspiration. In the book, she provides not only simple recipes but also solutions for those dilemmas Moms face when cooking for picky eaters (big and little).
I got to help Katie with her cooking demonstration while she shared helpful cooking tips. She made two of the recipes from the book which we got to sample and they were fantastic – the Broiled Miso Cod Fingers and the Sauteed Spring Vegetables. I’ve already made both recipes for my kids and they not only ate them, but LIKED them.
I love to cook, especially on the weekends where I have time to enjoy it. But being forced to get good meals on the table on nights when I’m dogged tired just causes me angst. (I love that word.) So, I purchased two copies of The Mom 100 Cookbook, one for me and one for you, to see how it could help.
Here were the highlights for me:
1. Variety. Do you ever find that you get in a rut when cooking dinner? Do the kids say “Aw, spaghetti AGAIN?” I definitely go through periods where I don’t want to think about dinner and I just fall back on 2 or 3 easy dishes. This gets boring! It does not make family dinner time fun. The book provides a variety of dishes with different flavors so I can easily expand my repertoire. From Cheddar and Cauliflower Soup to Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas to Soy-Ginger Flank Steak to Parmesan Turkey Meat Loaf, the recipes will make you look like Super Mom.
2. Little Helpers. Katie provides a little sidebar note on every recipe that says how the kids can help out with the recipe. Perfect! As you know, I’m a huge component of cooking with the kids. It not only teaches them a life skill (so my son doesn’t eat microwave burritos over the sink when he grows up), but it gives us a chance to talk in the kitchen. I have found that if I get the kids involved in planning the menu and cooking the recipe, they are more likely to eat it. The book also hassome good tips on how to get your kids to eat more things.
3. Fork in the Road. For most recipes, Katie calls out a “fork in the road” where you put aside some of the dish to appease those picky eaters. (Not where you say, “Forget this!” and order in pizza.) Then, you can continue on with the recipe adding more exotic or flavorful ingredients. I have doing this for awhile for my kids and wish I had come up with a cool name for it. For example, my daughter doesn’t like Mexican food and my son doesn’t like cheese. But I love i! So, when I make enchiladas I leave the enchilada sauce off a few for my daughter and I leave the cheese off a few for my son. That way we all get what we want but I didn’t have to make a whole new dish for the picky eaters.
4. Make Aheads. You are a Mom. You’re busy. Need I say more? So, the cookbook does us a favor and indicates where some parts of the recipe can be made ahead of time. Prep some of the food on Sunday and use it through the week when you are tired and don’t have a lot of time to get dinner on the table.
5. Mixed Company Recipes. I love to entertain. We try to have friends and family over for dinner at least once a month and kids are usually invited. So, when I cook, I need to impress the adults with my cooking skills yet still have the kids eat it and not feed it to the dog. The Mom 100 Cookbook features a whole section on Mixed Company Recipes that should appeal to both adults and kids. So, the party is on!
You Might Also Like:
Get the Family to the Dinner Table More Often
How to Bring More Fun to the Dinner Table
5 Easy, Inexpensive Ideas to Have Fun with the Kids This Weekend
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Our family has been making a special effort to have more meals together every week to make sure we connect and more importantly, have fun. Trust me, I know it’s hard for busy families to schedule quality time together but you have 21 chances a week to sit down to eat and interact as a family. Surely, you can find at least 4 or 5 times to do it together.
Here are some tips on how to make it happen in your house.
1. Make Family Dinnertime Fun.
You’ll get your family to show up at the dinner table more if they enjoy it. Just because you are all sitting around a table together, it doesn’t mean you are connecting. You have to engage, have fun and get the family to look forward to the time together. Silly dinner menus, great conversations, playing “restaurant”, and games are all ways to inject some fun. Read my post How to Bring More Fun to the Dinner Table for more ideas.
2. It’s Not About the Food.
Sure we all love to eat a great meal but as I saw in an article 5 Ways to Improve Family Mealtime, don’t sweat or stress about the meal itself. Make your life easier on some nights and eat off of paper plates, order in food, or eat breakfast food at dinner if it’s easier to make. The kids think it is fun and no one will think any less of Mom if she would rather spend 20 precious minutes at night reading with kids than washing dishes. Just get everyone around the table. Here’s a recipe for one of my favorite super-easy dinners that the kids like too.
3. Family Meals Aren’ Just for Dinner Anymore.
Let’s face it, no matter how hard you try, life interferes with dinnertime. Dad works late, kids have practice, Mom’s going out to a networking meeting or if she’s lucky a Girls Night Out event. So, if you know you have a crazy week of evening activities ahead look at your planner and pencil in mealtimes at any time of the day. Sunday brunch, Saturday lunch, Wednesday breakfast. Just schedule 4-5 times a week where everyone will be sitting together and sharing. Mark it on the central family calendar so everyone knows they are expected to be present at those times.
4. Get the Kids to Pitch In.
Once your kids reach a certain age, they can certainly help with the family dinner. Here’s a good article on 3 Strategies to Get Kids to Pitch In which gives some good ideas on what kids can do at which age and how to help them help you. Kids can chip in by setting or clearing the table. Get them involved in cooking. Make them in charge of the dinner table game or conversation for the meal. By giving them a job, they’ll see how important the family meal is and hopefully make life a little easier for Mom and Dad.
How often does your family eat meals together? What are your tips and tricks for getting everyone to show up for dinner and engage?
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Now that school has started, so have the after-school activities, which means it’s harder and harder to get the family to sit down and eat together. I don’t know about you but this is a huge challenge for our family. Now more than ever it’s important to get the kids to sit and talk with you about their day. I want to hear about who their new friends are, which subjects they like most, where they need help with their homework, or how they handled a weird situation with another kid in class.
According to an article at Time.com, families who spend quality time around the table talking and interacting have more well-adjusted children, no matter what age they are. What do they mean by well-adjusted? Healthier, less likely to do drugs, have sex, and learn to use a fork. I’d give anything for my son to use a fork!
Trust me, I know it’s hard for busy families to schedule quality time together but you have 21 chances a week to sit down to eat and interact as a family. Hopefully, you can find at least 4 or 5 times a week to keep the family connected. To help schedule that, read my article at Patch.com on How to Get the Family to the Dinner Table.
However, just because you got them to the dinner table, it doesn’t mean you are connecting. You have to engage beyond just grilling everyone about their day. My goal is to make family dinner time together FUN so the whole family wants to be at the table. A tough task but it’s worth it!
Here are some of my ideas on how to make family dinnertime more fun so everyone looks forward to this time together and feels more comfortable talking.
1. Dancin’ in the Kitchen. To keep things lively, we like to crank the tunes and dance or sing while we cook, set the table and clean up. Grooving some calories away before and after dinner is good for the heart. Take turns picking the tunes.
2. Choose or Lose. Another way to have some fun at dinnertime is to let the kids choose the entire meal on certain nights. I let them choose an entree, side dish, veggie and fruit for the meal. That way I am teaching them to include all of the food groups when they plan a meal. They might choose some interesting items that you wouldn’t normally eat together but that’s what makes it fun.
3. Conversation Games. Sometimes you are just tired or at a loss for a dinner table topic. That’s why we keep some conversation starter cards near the dinner table. There are quite a few conversation games out there but we like the Family Dinner Box of Questions and Chat Pack for Kids the best. You can also write up some of your own questions ahead of time. It’s a fun way to get the conversation started and learn something new about each of your family members.
4. Positive Affirmations. When we have had a bad day or the kids have been fighting a lot, I like to “play” the positive affirmations game at the dinner table. We go around the table and say what we like most about the other family members. It forces us to focus on the positives and it is a small ego-boost for everyone. We all leave the dinner table in a much better mood.
5. Opposite Night. The kids love it when we have breakfast food at dinner time. So grab those breakfast and brunch recipe favorites and surprise the family. Or, eat dessert first one night to really throw them off balance.
6. Dinner Themes. If we are having Mexican food, I’ll see if I can throw some Mexican inspired decorations on the table. We’ll play Mariachi music while we eat. (Pandora.com is awesome for finding unique music you might not have in your collection. Type in “Latin Cafe” and you’ll love the mix.) Try French night, Asian, Old Fashioned Pizza Parlour, Red Food Only, Foods that Start with the letter “P” as themes. Be creative!
7. Play Spoons. Especially if you have little kids, they love it when you teach them how to hang a spoon off of the end of your nose. If your kids are older, then get their competitive juices going and challenge them to see who can do it first or the longest.
8. Dinner is Served. Lately, we have been playing restaurant on weekends when we stay home and cook. My daughter is the waitress with her pad of paper and pencil and my son pretends he is the chef with his chef hat and fake mustache. They love serving Mom and Dad at the table and I have to say I really like it, too.
What do you do to connect with your family at the dinner table? Please, leave a comment. We love to try new ideas.
For more on this subject, read 6 Ideas to Get Your Kids to Talk More About their Day.
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For me, cooking with your kids is the ultimate “Chocolate Cake Moment.” Making cooking a SHARED activity you not only teach your kids a life skill, it brings the family closer together. Your talking, sharing ideas, learning, experiencing something together and most importantly connecting … without any headphones, TVs, computers, or other distractions.
So, it’s great to see Guy Fieri, of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and Guy’s Big Bite on Food Network, championing cooking with your kids. His foundation and new Food Network show “Cooking with Kids” are designed to mentor kids of all ages and educate families on the importance of getting kids into the kitchen from the very beginning. Hear, Hear! Check out the show site for tips on cooking with kids and kid-friendly recipes.
Guy answers questions on what motivated him to focus on Cooking with Kids over at the Food Network Blog. You can even watch a clip from the show.
What do you like to cook with your kids?
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