"Tricks for Getting the Family to the Dinner Table!"
10 years ago I wrote about the importance of eating together and sneaky ways to get your family to the dinner table. When you combine the hectic pace of life and the hit-or-miss habit of meal time (or the non-dinner hour) that's just as prevalent today as it was back then, I thought it might be helpful to review some tricks my friends or I have used over the years that might help you in making the family dinner hour possible.
(Note: If you think this information no longer applies to you, read on anyway. Chances are you have a daughter, a daughter-in-law, or young neighbor that would benefit from these ideas.)
1: Get in the habit of making a morning announcement to everyone leaving for the day what the evening menu is. Of course, this means planning ahead, but that's so easy thanks to our Cook'n app, right? "We're having Chicken & Rice Casserole, and cherry pie with ice cream tonight! See you for dinner!" is a pretty enticing send-off.
Another common approach to this routine is to assign days of the week to specific meals: "Don't forget this is chili and homemade cornbread smothered in butter and honey night! See you for dinner!"
This reminds me of a heart-warming experience I had the other day driving through our neighborhood after work. I came up on a couple 10-year-old neighbor boys pedaling like crazy towards home. I slowed up, rolled down my window, and called to them, "Hey guys, where you headed so fast?" Josh answered, "Hi Mrs. Osborne. It's Sloppy Joe night. We gotta get home for dinner!" "And I've been invited!" Josh's pal, Kevin shouted out. "Hmm," I thought to myself, "THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!"
Some moms use a chalk, bulletin, or white board to post the day's meal-kind of like a restaurant: TODAY'S FAMILY SPECIAL: Crock-pot Spare Ribs, Baked Potatoes, Angel Food Cake with Strawberries and Cream. Everyone leaves for their appointed destinations feeling all is right in the world-mom's on the job!
2: Set the table. It sends a quiet message that dinner hour is important and those coming to the table are special and deserve this extra effort. And it can be a lot of fun as well-it lends itself nicely to holiday themes, birthdays, and other special days. Let your creativity run with this part of the family dinner hour.
We never had much money as our kids were growing up, so meals were generally very basic-nothing fancy, gourmet-ish, or worth accolades. BUT, the table was always set, even if it was with paper plates. There were usually candles lit, paper napkins neatly folded underneath the forks, and glass-glasses (as opposed to plastic) at each setting. And place settings were always sitting on inexpensive plastic or vinyl placemats (ala Walmart). When I worked outside the home, I would set the dinner table before I left for work in the morning. As the kids got older, they shared the table-setting responsibility.
Also, a set table signals to the family as they pass by the kitchen or dining area that you're serious about the family dinner goal (and they should be as well), and it's a visual reminder of where they need to be at the appointed hour.
3: As you begin your meal preparations, start with frying some onions (even if you're not using them in the meal-they can always be frozen for another time). Food aromas say "Hang in there...dinner's coming!" and this calms anyone in the family that doesn't deal well with hunger pangs. And of course, food aromas create an anticipation of what's to come-always a good thing when you want folks to "buy in" to what you're attempting.
4: Introduce fun traditions and the element of surprise on a regular basis. One mom I know hides an almond in her tapioca or cream pudding desserts or a quarter in the cake for the Monday dinner every week. The person finding the almond or quarter is the week's "lucky kid" and they can choose one chore to remove from their weekly chore list. You can bet they show up to dinner!
Another mom I know likes to write little notes to her kids and tuck them under their dinner plate. And another friend likes to give goofy names to the elements of her dinners (Head-hunter Stew, Chocka-Rocka-Docka Chocolate Cake, etc.). Kids love this stuff and the ambience it creates.
Got tricks for enticing the family to the table? Please share! And spread the good word: eating together makes the day even better!
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Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
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