I have found that a relaxing dinner time starts way before the actual meal is served. It starts before you even go to the store to grocery shop. A thorough meal plan that is achievable and family friendly will help to make meal times much smoother. On those days that you look at the clock and it is already 5pm and you have no idea what is even in the freezer much less what to make for dinner you have a HUGE mountain to climb before you can even think about sitting down to a plate of food. But, if you have a meal plan that works, a stocked pantry and freezer, and the organization to bring it all together dinner time is much more likely to be fun for even you!
My top five pieces of advice for making dinner time fun and relaxing are below. I hope that you will be able to apply them to your home and see the benefits as I have.
1. Meal plan and be disciplined. Even if you have a meal plan you must be disciplined enough to start your meal and do any preparation needed in a timely manner. You can't wait until 5pm to put that meal plan into play and then wonder why you still feel stressed. So plan well and start early.
2. Engage your children no matter their age. Whether you have toddlers or high schoolers if they are involved in the preparation and serving of the meal they will be more fully engaged in the meal and less likely to disrupt or be noisy. Children love that feeling of accomplishment and pride that comes from helping make a meal and set a nice table for the ones that that they love. Given the chance to help will encourage them to take pride in their work and to look forward to "showing off" at dinner time.
|Teaching them young to help.|
3. Teach children table skills earlier rather than later. My children are taught early (age 3-4) to make their own plates and to pass the bowls around the table. I choose the bowls that I place on the table carefully and at times even put two bowls of the same food on the table so as to make the bowls smaller and easier to pass. I also teach my children to use a knife safely and carefully but at an age younger than most people would. These skills help to make children self-sufficient at the dinner table and this frees me to eat my food and to help the younger ones with less stress.
4. Set the table. The fewer times that you have to jump up the less stressed you will feel and the calmer dinner will be. So, bring everything to the table instead of filling plates in the kitchen. Also, using cheap washcloths as "cloth napkins" can cut costs on paper goods and also serve well in the case of spills.
5. Be realistic. While we all strive to keep dinner time relaxing and stress-free there are realistic limits to this goal. If you are a mother of young children or even just a mother of many children, you can't expect to achieve a fancy restaurant atmosphere every night at dinner. While children need clear expectations and should be held accountable to sit quietly and eat in a mannerly fashion, they will talk, they will spill, and they will need help. So, set the limits and keep on working toward your goal but cut yourself and your family some slack. It is a process and it takes time.
Picnic at the river front.
Overall, dinner should be a time to reconnect and visit about everyone's day. But it should be fun too! So keep the menu family friendly and yet be creative. Make a fancy dessert, or serve veggies on kabobs for something different. Maybe serve dinner on the deck or on a sheet in the front yard for a nice change. If you want your family to look forward to dinner time it should be a fun time with lots of smiles and giggles and as little correcting and stress as possible.
Written by Happily Domestic contributor - Amanda Sikes