Keeping your family at the table for more than five minutes – extending the family dinner

I started writing this blog in September and at that time I made the resolution to sit down and eat dinner as a family as much as possible – something my family had rarely done before. With three small children who are close together in age, we had gotten into the bad habit of having an early kids’ dinner (replete with kid-food) and an adult dinner (ditto) after the kids went to bed. Tired of making two meals each night, tired of my kids’ limited diet, tired of my kids’ less than exemplary manners when we would actually go to a restaurant, I started making one meal – with vegetables – each night. It’s been going well and I have to say, the kids are eating better, their manners are slowly but surely getting better, but I have one issue that remains to be addressed. How to extend the dinner hour? Or should I say dinner quarter-hour (or less)?

How often has this happened to you? You plan and make a meal that hopefully your whole family will enjoy. Let’s say it’s even the simplest of meals – takes under thirty minutes, Rachael-style – you still have to set the table, do the dishes, etc. So your family finally sits down to this dinner you have planned and made and presented…and the kids are gone in five minutes.  I asked some of my friends what worked with their children as far as having a calm, extended dinner with pleasant conversation and interchanges about everyone’s day. It’s hard with little kids, but you do have to start somewhere. Here are some of their suggestions:

1) Ask questions that will get answers. Rather than asking your child “How was your day?” which will inevitable be met with “fine” or “good,” ask instead, “What are you learning in Science?” or “Who did you play with on the playground?”

2) Have your kids help with the meal – selection, preparation, setting the table, clearing the table, the dishes – this ensures they have to stick around and not disappear.

 3) A few of my friends have these fun dinner game sets that house cards with different dinner activities. Some examples of games are “A, B City,” where the first person starts with the letter A and names a place (city, state, country) that starts with A, like “Alaska.” The next person has B and names let’s say “Boston” and you continue around the table. You can also pick different categories like sports, toys, etc. Another fun game especially for younger kids is one person says a color, then you go around the table saying a food that begins with that color.

4) Pick a topic like vacations, religion, or current events to get the conversation started. Even the little ones can remember a recent vacation or talk about one that is coming up.

How do you keep your kids at the dinner table? 

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