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Style Magazine

Family Date Night

May 28, 2010 05:37AM ● By Style

You hear it pretty much everywhere in one form or another, “Dinnertime should be family time.”

Television commercials show families sitting around a table talking while they eat. Parenting magazines discuss statistics about the value of family meals. And, even school flyers sent home with your kids recommend dinner-time topics for prompting lively family conversations.

Dinnertime has always been family time in my house, first as a child and now as a parent, so I understand the value of communing together at this hour; however, I recently started considering that maybe dinnertime could be defined as more than just eating together. What about the time before dinner, or after? Could there potentially be value in this time as well?

Before the Meal

1. Aside from providing an opportunity to talk, kids learn about the food they are going to eat and are more likely to eat it. Consider discussing the different types of food, their origin and what nutritional and other values they add to your meal. Some suggestions for fun meals to prepare as a family are pizza, lasagna, breaded chicken strips and shish kabobs.

2. Your kids learn the basics of cooking and are better equipped for kitchen independence as they get older. It’s nice to have an 11-year-old who you can trust to cook grilled cheese, mac-n-cheese or omelettes for himself and his siblings.

3. Cooking offers an excellent chance to pull in a math lesson or two. For instance, we have a large family so everything is typically doubled, which is a perfect recipe for the use of addition, multiplication and fractions.

4. Setting the table is great for getting your kids to work together and learn etiquette about proper placement of utensils and other table items.

During the Meal

1. This may seem overly obvious, but eating together at the same time around the same table is the first step for a family meal. Do whatever you need to do to officially schedule this time into your evening for everyone. If dinnertime just won’t work, then plan a different meal to eat together.

2. TURN OFF THE TV! This is the number one distraction during dinnertime and is most likely to prevent the success of any attempted conversation.

3. Each night have a different family member decide on the initial topic of conversation, or write different topic ideas onto strips of paper and select them out of a designated “discussion bowl.”

4. Turn eating into a game. Challenge your kids to see how many bites it will take to eat a particular item on their plate. Or, reward them with a small treat after dinner for eating as many different colors of food as possible.

After the Meal

1. Everyone eats, so everyone should clean. This takes the burden off of one person and also extends the bonding experience so conversations aren’t cut short just because the eating is complete. With four kids, I have my youngest kids clear the table, the middle-aged one put food into containers and the oldest wash dishes. My husband and I help wherever we’re needed.

2. Plan one or two nights each week to reconvene for a quick board game or card game. Life is busy, but if you do it right after dinner you’re most likely to get maximum participation.

Consider turning more of your nights into Family Date Nights by following some of these suggestions and you might find that mealtime will soon be more fun for everyone.