|Posted on September 16, 2014 at 5:50 PM|
We all want to enjoy meal times with our family. However, achieving this is often easier said than done. With a thoughtful planning mealtime can be a time of connection and shared enjoyment. Below are just a few ideas to transform family mealtime into a time of truly warm engagement.
Each mealtime activity is identified as being appropriate for toddlers (T), school aged children (S) or adolescents and teens (A).
1. Appetizing appetizer dinner (TSA--• with toddlers and young children omit toothpicks and make “finger food” instead) Everyone loves appetizers. There is just something fun about eating little bites of delicious food. It’s even more fun when you can eat them with toothpicks (or fingers)! So, why not make the whole meal a grand grazing feast? Ideas for this dinner might include, pigs in a blanket, mini burgers, fresh cut veggies with ranch dressing for dipping, cheese squares, crackers, rolled up deli meats, pickles, olives, chicken wings, cucumbers with cream cheese, etc. Anything can be made bite sized and thus be made fun!
2. Surprise dinners (TS) Sometimes it’s fun to not know what is for dinner. A fun way to make a game out of trying new foods is to cover and number the dishes and let the kids pick one at a time to try. The only rule is that whichever plate gets chosen, everyone has to try at least 1 bite.
3. Breakfast for dinner (TSA) Break up the routine of what’s for dinner by serving breakfast! Kids love the novelty of eating breakfast food for dinner. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, cereal, toast, fruit, smoothies, waffles take on a whole new meaning when served as dinner.
4. Dipping dinners (TSA) Dip into something new and unusual. For this dinner, make what ever you want or normally would but spice it up by adding small bowls in the center of the table for dipping into. For example you might place bowls of apple sauce, cheese dip, ranch dressing, chocolate syrup, honey, ketchup, mustard, jelly, peanut butter, whipped cream, vinegar, mayonnaise, etc… the more unusual, the better. You never know what combinations might appeal and it is always fun to experiment with new flavor combinations!
5. Progressive dinners (TSA) Shake things up a bit by having the first course (salad or soup or fruit) at the table, the second course (main entrée and sides) on a picnic blanket on the living room floor and dessert on the lanai. Moving about (progressing) from place to place can be fun!
6. Musical chairs dinner (TSA) After every course everyone moves to a new seat to either get a new perspective, or be able to talk with and sit next to someone new!
7. Dessert first dinners (TSA) I have a great friend who has a group of adoring children who love to eat at her house because she often allows them to eat dessert first! Not something you may want to do often, but for something special, this is sure to please!
8. Blindfolded dinner (SA) As indicated in the title, this dinner is eaten with blindfolds on so all the diners can experiment with food without the aid of sight. They can guess, the contents and share the fun! Blindfolds do not need to be kept on through the whole meal, only when trying the first bite of a new food.
9. Arts dinner (TSA) Cover the table with butcher paper and place crayons on the table and let everyone color, play hangman, tic tac toe and have a grand time!
10. Numbered dinners (TS) There are several ways to have a numbered dinner. You can place a certain number of items on each plate (for example, 1 hot dog, 2 bun halves, 3 tomato slices, 4 olives, 5 carrots, 6 string beans, 7 French-fries, etc.. Or you can number the order in which foods will be eaten. First, the carrots, then the hotdog, next the olives, followed by the French-fries, etc.
11. The Curiosity dinner game (TSA) The idea of this dinner game is to get curious about each other. A great way to engage in fun dinner conversation is to get to know each other in new ways. One way to do this is to ask each other questions in which there are no right or wrong answers, rather it is meant to provide a fun way to explore values and opinions.
Here is a sampling: If you could have any super power what would it be? What is your happiest memory? What is the funniest joke you have heard? If you could be on any TV show which one would it be? What are your favorite items or things about your room? If you could only eat one type of food, what would it be? If you could only have one book or movie, which would it be? You get the idea. Engage in fun conversation topics, which will appeal to all age groups and in which all age groups can participate. For more topic ideas there are books available, which are filled with all kinds of conversation topic starters. Also, it is fun to make up questions with the family. You’ll be surprised at what kids come up with!
Final note. Kids who are active, may benefit from being able to get up for a moment in between courses to stretch their legs and “ get the sillies” out. Set a timer, allow them to “mingle jingle” about for a moment or two and when the bell sounds have an enticing food option, game or conversation ready at the table to entice them back.
|Posted on July 2, 2014 at 8:45 PM|
How many of us dream of family dinners where the entire family is sitting around the table, talking, laughing, sharing the warmth and glow of family togetherness? The family dining table is an icon of family togetherness. Pictures and images of gathering together for the nourishment of body and soul are deeply ingrained in our imaginations and psyches. And yet, for many the actual experience of family dinnertime falls far short of our hopes and dreams. Often, mealtime is a time of frustration and exasperation for parents as they try, often in vain, to get kids to settle down, not complain about the food, not bicker with their siblings, sit still, use good manners, talk softly, not play with their food, try new foods, engage in conversation and generally behave. And for kids, the experience is often frustrating as well as they try to behave, sit still, and try new foods, etc.
Why is the dream of family mealtime so different from the reality many families experience? I believe it is because there is a fundamental disconnect between what we parents hope to achieve and the manner in which we try to achieve it, and this occurs for many reasons. To begin, adults generally tend to enjoy sitting for the duration of meal, engaging in conversation and eating good food. This is often not true for children. Kids' attention span is shorter, their interest in lengthy conversations is often limited, and their interest in food is often not well developed. In short, appreciation and enjoyment of the dining experience is something that develops with age. It is something that needs to be cultivated. As children mature, their palates develop, their ability to focus increases, their interest in dinnertime topics of conversation increases. But as young children, they are simply, developmentally, still emerging in this area.
Another barrier to family warmth at mealtimes is the parental focus soley on behavior and manners. It is difficult to enjoy mealtime and feel relaxed for parents and kids alike when the focus is on sitting up straight, using utensils properly, speaking softly, sitting still, trying new foods, etc… Parents understandably feel that their job is to teach their children how to dine appropriately in the world. And it is. However, not all mealtimes need to be teaching opportunities. And certainly, it is possible to teach while still having a great time together. The notion that teaching and learning need to be ‘serious” is antithetical to what we know about how children learn. Kids learn when they are motivated to learn. How does motivation occur? Often, through emotional engagement and developed interest. In other words, in occurs when they are having fun! If you have ever watched a TV show for kids where learning is the focus you will know that this is true as animals and other characters sing, play games and otherwise make learning a whole lot of fun. So how do we create mealtimes where everyone has fun, where positive memoroes are created, table manners are taught and the family bonds? The answer to these questions will be the focus of my next blog.