Photos courtesy of Design by Aly.
Mealtimes have always been important to our family. Growing up, I remember more often than not, gathering around the table and eating home cooked meals with everyone after a long day of school or work. Family dinners are a time that is sacred to us and I often strive to chisel a time that works out for everyone to join us. Over the past month, I have been participating in Mamascout's E-Lab that is aimed at "igniting and sustaining creative family living." (She's offering another lab starting October 1st - you won't want to miss it!) This lab truly does tap into your inner ingenuity and helps you imagine ways to connect with your family in unique ways that you may not have considered before. The lab touches on many aspects of family life, but one that has piqued my interest is how to make mealtime a bit more special as a family.
There are so many ways to create lasting memories for your children. Fun and laughter at the dinner table is one that does not require a lot of planning (other than the menu) and happens each and every day. So what are some simple ways that we create memories at mealtime? Here are six ideas, inspired by Mamascout's E-Lab, that have become a part of evening rituals as our day draws to a close.
1. Get your little one involved with dinner prep.
Helping with dinner allows our little guy feel needed and important. He is always so proud of his creations and never fails to enjoy eating what he has made. More often than now, my son asks for some extra attention when my husband and are whipping up something to eat. This way, he is not only keeping himself occupied, but he is learning what goes into cooking a meal and how to be grateful for all of the food that is placed on our table.
2. Start a weekly ritual, like Taco Tuesday, Meatless Mondays, or our
new favorite: "Make Your Own" Wednesdays.
Rituals are wonderful for little ones, as well as for the family. They also help carve out a special occasion that we try not to miss each week. My son had such a fun time adding his own toppings to his pizza, that I thought it would be fun to be able to create our own individual dish once a week. We will probably try to keep with making our own pizza each Wednesday, but sometimes there are time constraints or requests for something different. This week was "make your own" peanut butter sandwich night, which was also fun!
3. Share stories at the dinner table.
It is always so nice to reminisce as a family. Grandmas can share funny stories about Mom and Dad when they were little or enlighten the kids about what they enjoyed as a child. You can learn so much from stories of the past. Recently, I asked my parents and husband to share their favorite foods, their mom's go-to dinner when they were little, and what they used to eat during the school year. Discussing these memories helps teach your child to appreciate their family and connect at a deeper level, while still finding the humor in how things have changed over the years.
4. Enjoy your meal in a different venue.
We have always enjoyed taking our meals outside. We've shared Poetry Picnics, sandwiches at the park, dessert with a movie, and many breakfasts on the patio. It is so easy to just pick your meal up and head to a new space, whether it be in your house or outside in nature. Try having a carpet picnic. Sit at a kid's sized table in your house or drive through your favorite restaurant and head to an overlook to watch the sun set. These moments will make your kids smile. My son has such a wonderful sense of humor. It never ceases to amaze him when he finds himself enjoying dinner in a special locale. And don't forget to try different serving styles! A muffin tin lunch is always a hit here!
Add a few sprinkles to your child's favorite breakfast. Declare this evening waffle cone night! Have a tea party for those that you love. Make your celebration as simple as your like or as wacky as you want! Bring home a plate of brownies and have everyone add their own topping of their choice. Take a steaming cup of cocoa out on the porch and enjoy family game night in your backyard. Again, it doesn't always take much to hear laughter filling your dining room or to see the light shining out of the eyes of your children. Just celebrate!
6. Wrap up dinner with a family walk.
Strolling around our neighborhood is one of the simple pleasures we treasure most. You can help your children awaken their five senses and strike up some after dinner conversation while taking in the sights. For us, it's relaxing and rejuvenating. I will also leave your with this quote as we wrap up our list..." (John Muir) Seek out this time with your family.
Each of the ideas are moments that we cherish as family. They are simple routines to try in the evening as you are planning your meal. They can be thrown together at the last minute or even thought about the night before. Please keep in mind, that we do not do each of these every week (other than "Make Your Own" Wednesdays), but we try to incorporate them into our everyday lives as often as possible. So tonight, as you're setting the table, think about something special that you can try to bring a smile to your children's face and make mealtime memories that may last a lifetime.