Make It Magical: Family Dinner Time

I’ve had this idea for a blog series titled: “Make It Magical”  rattling around in my brain for a while.  It stems from the monotony of everyday living (which honestly,  I’m kind of terrible at).

I LOVE being a mother.  I would not trade it for the world, but sometimes the daily feeding, laundry, cleaning and homework tend to run together into one long mesh of time.  And then somebody asks me- “What have you been up to lately?”  And I answer with a hesitant- “Um…..  the usual?”

So in steps: “Make It Magical”.

To big-picture, sum it up, the ultimate goal is:  a series of posts to help you (and me!!) make ordinary routines into cherished rituals.  (Although, I’m still brainstorming on how to make laundry magical…. that one’s been a little tricky. 🙂 )

I want to provide easy ways to make the life you’re building special and memorable.  The ideas will be simple and hopefully not cost you much money, but provide purposeful efforts toward building a tradition-rich family.

Today’s ritual:  Family Dinner.

Ah, dinner.

It just keeps on coming.  Day after day after day.

I was calculating just how many dinners I’ve made.  I’ve been married almost 13 years (and we eat most meals at home, so…) times that by 365 days a year.  That’s about 4,745 dinners I’ve made for my family.  Ouch.  No wonder I get sick of cooking.

And can I remember any of them?  Not really.  They kind of just mesh together in my memory.  Except for this one time…

I checked out a book from the library called Would You Rather?.  It was full of questions like-  would you rather eat one booger everyday or a big plate of boogers at once? Or would you rather have hands for feet or feet for hands?

Classy stuff like that.

During dinner, I opened the book and started reading the questions to my family.  As everyone began rationalizing their answers to these crazy questions, the magic happened.  Belly laughs.  Crazy conversations.  Fun.  Connection.  It felt like we were the only people in the world.  All snuggled around the dinner table.

I know that dinner is stressful.  I know schedules are busy.  But I can promise you family dinner time is worth every effort you can give it.

Don’t believe me?  Ask the research.  The benefits are incredible.  Think-  less underage drinking, better performance in school, closer relationships with parents (which leads to increased communication when things get tough), better physical health, stronger families, etc…..

Since I’ve been around a bit- you know, almost 5,000 dinners of experience 🙂 – I thought I’d share with you my recipe for creating a tradition of magical family dinners.  It’s not too tough.  Here’s what you need:

Ingredient #1:  NO ELECTRONICS.  Turn off the TV.  Keep phones in the other room.  Parents included.  This is your time to connect emotionally.  You cannot do it with texts and email interruption.  Your kids might fight this at first, but stay firm.  It’ll get easier with time.

Ingredient #2: CONSISTENCY.  Set a time for dinner each day and stick to it.  I know life is busy, but family dinner is a critical, daily point of connection.  Do not miss it.  If you feel you are too busy, reconsider all the activities you’re involved in.  Cut back and give your family the chance to connect.

Ingredient #3: FOOD.  An obvious one. 🙂  But honestly, I don’t really care what you serve.  Magical dinners happen over pancakes.  Some nights it’s all I can do to scramble some eggs and cut up an apple, but it still works.

Ingredient #4: A TOUCH OF TRADITION AND NOVELTY.  This is where the sparks light and the magic appears.  This will separate Family Dinner from every other meal at your house.

First, traditions are the things that your family grows to love and expect.  (Think ham at Easter or pizza on Fridays.)  I love dinner traditions.  Our favorite one is serving the birthday kid their favorite food on their special day.  (One year, my son’s favorite food was brownies.  We totally had that for dinner.  Don’t tell my mom.)  Another one is making Navajo Tacos on Christmas Eve.  Our kids look forward to mom and dad trying to (ineptly) fry bread and making an incredible mess.

What are some traditions you have?  Here are a few ideas I’ve seen with other families to get you thinking:

  • Having a special birthday plate that each person uses on their birthday
  • Pizza and movie night as a family on Friday
  • Pasta Monday
  • Fourth of July BBQ
  • Yearly girls’ dinner out with just daughters or sons
  •  Ask a specific question to everyone everyday, such as: what went well today?  Who did you help today?  or something else that helps build the mission of your family
  • Eating on your patio in the warmer months
  • Roasting over the campfire while camping

Traditions are critical to building a strong family culture.  I know it’s impossible to try them all, but I challenge you to pick a new dinner tradition and start it now.   Or if you’ve casually had some traditions going, set them in stone and make them official.  Get everyone in on the plan.

(P.S.  If you’re looking to ease your own stress, having these set traditions makes your life sooooo much easier.  A lot of plans are already in place, just waiting for you to show up.  Just a hint I’ve learned the hard way.)

Now for the novelty.  My favorite part!

This is where you can add your own unique flair.

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Yeah.  That’s me.  Adding some novelty.  I decided to lay Christmas lights along my dinner table one day.  Then I turned off the lights and served dinner in the glow of twinkling lights.  It was definitely magical.  And my kids LOVED it.

Adding a little bit of novelty and spontaneity to your dinners will help keep the magic strong and your family coming back for more.  The sky is the limit for the ideas you can try and your own unique personality will be the driving force.  Here is my “dinner bucket list” (yeah, that’s something I totally have).  Some I’ve tried, some I want to try.  I’ll let you guess which ones are which. 🙂

This list is only to give you ideas.  I hope it’ll spark some for you!!

  • Serve dinner in a new spot.  Do you always eat at the kitchen table?  Take it to the backyard, picnic-style.  Or even better- to the park.
  • Throw a blanket over the table and eat underneath it. Like pirates exploring a cave.
  • Make it a theme night.  Serving tacos?  Go through the Halloween box and pull out any sombreros or maracas.  Dress up while you’re cooking and serving.
  • Spread Christmas lights all over the table, turn off the lights and eat in the intimate glow.
  • Google funny kid jokes earlier in the day and then read them to everyone while eating.
  • Go to the thrift store and buy the craziest plates or cups or silverware you can find.  Make everyone eat with them.
  • Serve your food community-style, with the largest bowls you have, so everyone has to eat from the same bowl.
  • After dinner is done, pull out a card game and play.  The loser has to do the dishes.
  • Have one of your kids plan the theme for the night.  Let them plan the food, decorations and table set-up.
  • Serve only finger food.  No utensils allowed.
  • Seriously- go check out that Would You Rather? book from the library and read it at the table.  You’ll be rolling on the floor.

The ideas could go on and on.  My challenge to you is:  Pick an idea above (or one of your own) and use it this week.  Make one of your dinners magical.

Remember:  No electronics, consistency, and a bit of novelty and tradition.  That’s how you do it!

**Side note to fellow moms:  I know it’s been a hard day and dinner is at the very end of it.  But lock yourself in the laundry room for a minute.  Stuff some chocolate in your mouth.  Take a breath.  And repeat to yourself- “It’s worth it.  It’s worth it.”  You can do it.