Friday, March 7, 2014

15 Ways to Create Fun (and relaxed) Family Meal Times

For a few years, I constantly grumbled about making dinner for my family. Life was so busy, and it seemed that there were so many things so much more important than cooking a meal.  I felt overwhelmed and stressed out by it.   My heart wasn't into it. The food I cooked was boring, no one liked it, and there were a million things I would have rather been doing. It was a big chore, you know!

Then one day I had an epiphany... I could turn my half-hearted grumbling efforts into a creative endeavor. That made the difference... turning the boring, hum drum into fun and happy.

I decided to learn to make good food, and create an environment where my family would feel loved and enjoy the time together.

Here are a few ideas to keep meal times fun and creative...

1. YOU must have a good ATTITUDE... THINK fun, creative, and loving thoughts

Our attitudes make the biggest difference. It's true that making dinner is hard and often hectic. Choose to have fun, and eventually everyone will follow suit.

2. Plan menus
I believe this is the single most important thing about keeping dinner time happy and non-stressful .
See the Easiest Menu Planning System HERE .

3. Try new recipes
Image Source

I make at least 1 new recipe a week. This keeps things fresh and fun for me!
Half the fun is looking for great recipes on Pinterest  and in magazines :).

4. Make the table an inviting place
After reading the FACTS about the proven effects family meals have on children, we can obviously conclude that the table is one of the most important places in the house.

Here's what I did a few months ago, that's put some extra spark into our meal times:

After all of the elbow grease I put into refurbishing my Craigslist table,thankfully my kids sit much happier there! We NAMED the table and chairs... I know it's silly, but  it's made the table more of a "special" place for us.

You definitely don't have to buy an expensive table or do a crazy make-over to make your table an inviting place.

Just a little bit of TLC for the table, can let it do the inviting itself... such as:

5. Tablecloths, table runners, or place mats

We all want to be in a spot where things are cute, beautiful, or fun! Tablecloths or table runners are a simple way to do this. No need to be a great seamstress or spend lots of money for this either.

Ikea fabrics are my FAVE for tablecloths!

When home decor fabric is on sale, I buy 2 1 /2 yards (washable kind). Then cut around the fabric with pinking shears (so they won't fray)! So simple, yet works great!

6. Fun Dishes
 I will admit that I ALWAYS have paper plates on hand, and I use them A WHOLE LOT!

Sometimes, however, it's fun to invite some great dishes to dinner...

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the good china or silver
pedestals or cake stands
serving trays
baskets for sandwiches , hotdogs, or hamburgers
Serve dinner in a VEGGIE TRAY

Why keep all the nice stuff put away for a special occasion? Use them occasionally with the family!

7. Occasional candlelight dinners

Pull out the candles just for fun, or to celebrate.  Celebrate birthdays, holidays, or even when someone did well on a test or was a rockstar in a sports, music, or dance. Find reasons to celebrate... (more on celebration meals coming up later this month).

8. Story Book Meals

When someone in the family is totally into a book, time period, or character- have a dinner based on the food from the book or era.

9. A No Utensil Night
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I know... yes, messy. Yes, disgusting. But you will laugh, and the family will remember it forever!

10. Theme Dinner Nights

11. Hmmm... always at the table?
Click HERE for some great ideas beyond the table.

12. Games and good conversations 
  • See THIS post for fun TABLE CONVERSATION ideas. 
  • Put a bunch of topics and current events in a jar, then set the timer and give everyone 1 minute in turn to give a spontaneous speech after they pick a topic.
  • Play bingo 
  • "What would you do if...."  come up with all kinds of different scenarios and ask the kids what they would do in that situation.  Mix up fun, serious, teaching moments and goals. Give everyone at the table a chance to come up with a scenario.

13. Occasionally eat dessert for dinner
Find this recipe HERE

14. Play the manners game
Find it HERE (coming later in March)

15. Gratitude Night 
Once each week, have everyone bring a list of things they were especially thankful for that week to dinner. Give everyone a turn to talk about their blessings ... sort of a small, weekly "thanksgiving." Keep those lists and put them in a family journal... it will be a treasure in years to come.

Also, have a jar that everyone can donate spare change that night. Save it, and once a year give the money to a favorite charity or organization. We recently donated ours to THIS organization. It helped the kids feel like they could make a small difference in the world, and it leads to good conversations at dinner... what we're thankful for, and how we can help others.

Here's to fun and relaxed family meals!
Nancy Pin It

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