When you’re working on making family dinner an important family ritual, getting your kids involved will make them more interested in sitting down at the table with you. They don’t need to have a large involvement – there are several small, easy ways to involve your kids (and none of them involve cooking).
1. Have a child fill a clear pitcher with ice and water to set on the table. If you want them to, have them also pick out some citrus fruit, cucumbers or herbs to add to the water. Older children can cut the additions to the water themselves. Younger children can be handed the cut fruit and other items to plunk in there. Then set everyone’s place with an empty water glass, making water and not sugary beverages the go-to meal drink.
2. Let each child chose the dinner one night a week. Do this in advance so you’re sure to have all the ingredients you will need. You may end up having tacos, spaghetti or breaded chicken every single week, but if it gets kids happily to the table, it’s worth the repetition.
3. Have family members take turns giving a blessing/prayer before the meal. Even non-religious families can say a blessing over the food with something simple like this:
For the meal we are about to eat,
for those that made it possible,
and for those with whom we are about to share it,
we are thankful.
(As a Christian, I don’t find that particular blessing non-religious. I believe God made the meal possible and he’s included. However, non-religious people who don’t feel God is responsible will look at it differently. It’s kind of a win-win blessing in my opinion.)
4. Use candles during dinner, and let the kids light them. Young children will need a lot of supervision, but telling a child he can use matches or a lighter is usually something he’s happy to do.
5. Let your kids invite friends to family dinner. Here’s how I handle a guest that doesn’t like what I’m serving for dinner. I say something like this: “We have a rule in our house that everyone eats the same meal. However, since this is your first time eating with us, you didn’t know this rule. So tonight, I’ll make you a grilled cheese or a peanut butter and jelly if you’d prefer. Next time you have dinner with us though, be warned, you’ll need to eat what I’ve made.” Then I also let them know that if they’re invited to dinner, it’s perfectly okay for them to ask what we’re serving before they answer, and I won’t be offended if they say no thank-you.
Notice that I didn’t put “set the table” as one of the ideas. It may be a good idea to get them involved, but since years ago setting the table was labeled a “chore” in our house, it’s not going to work in my house to get my boys excited to come to the table. If I could go back in time and relabel it somehow, I would, but it is now and forever will be a dreaded chore.
Do you have any other suggestions for easily getting your kids involved with dinner so they’re more interested in coming to the table?
Robin Shreeves is the eco-friendly food blogger for Mother Nature Network and the voice behind South Jersey Locavore, and the topic of the importance of family dinner makes its way onto both sites regularly. She’s a full-time freelance writer and a full-time mom and wife.