We make sure to eat dinner together as a family at-home, as often as we can. A good portion of those meals happen on evenings where we’re rushing to get out of the house to attend an activity or run a fast errand, but once a week, we try to make dinner extra special, do something fun and create something unexpected for the kids.
Add A Table Cloth You Can Draw On
Brown craft paper is one of the easiest ways that we add a little something special to dinner. In a $1 roll from the dollar store, I am able to get enough for two dinners on our 6′ long table. I let the kids decorate it before dinner, and it’s a perfect way to mark family celebrations too. Olivia usually likes to mark where people are sitting, giving her the chance to practice her writing at the same time. Then, while we’re eating, we can doodle on the paper.
Fondue for Four
Don’t have a fondue maker? That’s not a problem. Turn your slow cooker into a fondue pot! Cheese for dinner, chocolate for dessert and bread and vegetables, with fruit to dip in between. Fondue nights are some of our favorite ways to celebrate the holiday season and it’s a perfect way to serve a meal if you’re entertaining and don’t want all of the fuss that comes with having people over for dinner. The kids love it.
Host a ________ Bar (Waffles + More)
Giving the kids the chance to choose what they want to eat usually ensures that they’re going to eat more, and complain less. Though we do fun toppings like whipped cream and chocolate sauce, there are also a lot of fruit options to go with the dinner, ensuring that they’re going to get a healthy dinner, even though we’re not making their final choices for them. This also works with salads, potatoes, pretzels + pizzas.
Add a Jar Full of Questions
Using a jar around the house and small scraps of paper, write questions that you think of together, on scraps of paper. Around the dinner table, everyone takes turns picking a question and answering, or giving everyone the chance to answer. Half of the fun in this is writing down the questions that the children come up with.
Make it a Theme Night
Only make food that starts with M. Macaroni and Cheese, Mangoes – you get the point. It’s the perfect way to celebrate learning with small children that are just learning those letter sounds. You don’t have to stop at letters, the themes can be colors, different countries and types of cuisine, or anything you want.
Let the Kids Pick + Print the Menu
With all of the easy designs that you can find online, or free photo editing software, it’s never been easier to make a menu. Putting it out in front of the kids can be a great way to drum up some excitement for the special evening. One of my favorite ways to customize this? Once a month, let the kids choose the entire menu from start to finish, and create a specialized menu of their choices. It’s a fun way to give the kids reign over dinner, and you might just be surprised at their choices.
Get Out the Special Napkins
Homesense is one of my favorite places to shop. Half of that reason is the unique things that I’m finding there. On the way to the checkout, there are always piles of ‘special’ napkins that I was inspired to start grabbing for Olivia’s lunch – but using them for dinner can be a fun way to add something extra to a Tuesday night dinner with the family.
Eat UNDER the Table
I know, it sounds crazy. But sometimes, the craziest things are the things that make the memories. Take the benches and the chairs and put them on the table, and task the younger children with going to find blankets that are going to be placed under the table. Make sure that you’re serving something finger-food friendly, and let the kids know that you’re going to be eating dinner under the table tonight.
No Plate Nachos for Four (Or 5,6 or 7)
Family dinners are even easier when there are no plates, right? Some of my favorite family dinners are created from things that we can all share from the cooled off cast iron skillet. Nachos are one of the easiest things to make, and share and go great with a big platter of veggies and some chicken wings. I like to use the kraft paper with this meal as it helps to get rid of a bit of the mess of no plates, and make sure that just like the restaurant we have lemon water bowls for making hand cleaning easier. It’s a fun way to have family dinner, make it no-fuss, and have no plates, no forks and no knives
Have A Rainbow Pasta Bar
Pesto, Alfredo and tomato sauce with toppings like chicken or meatballs are easy to prepare ahead of time for a pasta bar buffet, but how do you make this meal even more kid-friendly? You color the pasta! Using food coloring to make colored pasta (add 12-16 drops of food coloring/liter of water), you can create rainbow pasta to serve (and surprise) the kids with.
Dance Dance Dinner
How many times during dinner do you tell the kids to sit still and eat their dinner? Most nights, we do it too. If the kids have a bit too much energy, and you’re looking for a way to get rid of a bit more without stifling their movement, try Dancing Dinners. Move the chairs to the side, and turn up the music to dance your way through dinner. No one has to sit still, but they do have to stay in their place. If you’re looking for an easy to make the kids stay in their place, tape a square on the floor. For younger kids that may not be able to reach, use a stool (if they can balance and stand easily) on it.
Candlelight Isn’t Just for Romance
Having a quiet dinner by candle light is for more than those romantic nights. Why not try it with the kids? If you don’t want to have the lit candles on the table close to the children, you can always place them around the table or around the kitchen, our of their reach for the same effect.
Do it Backwards
Why not eat dessert before dinner once in a while? Just make sure that the dessert portions are small, and that they’re going to eat the rest of their dinner too (if they want to do it again). You will be surprised at the amount of times they have eaten all of their dinner, just so we can do it the next time around. Make backwards signs for the table, wear your shirt backwards and call it a backwards dinner. Little kids will delight at the thought of the next backwards dinner.
You don’t have to organize a fun dinner every single night. Surprising the kids with something unexpected, and fun, every so often is a great way to create those special memories with things that they’re going to recall years from now – or go to school the next day so excited that last night, they ate dinner under the table.