5 family dinnertime rituals to stop the whingeing

Make dinnertime fun again.
Make dinnertime fun again. Photo: Shutterstock

We're all familiar with the complaining that eating at the dinner table can bring on.

It can make us want to avoid eating with our kids, but perhaps we should be thinking of ways to avoid the whingeing instead.

Research says that dinnertime is important for families to connect. Kids who eat with their parents have a wider vocabulary, do better at school, eat healthier foods, and have a better relationship with their family.

The trick is to implement some fun dinnertime rituals to make this daily activity enjoyable.

1. Ask, "What was your favourite part of the day?"

It might sound twee, but this one has really worked for my family. There are two great things about it: it helps us focus on the good stuff, and it encourages more conversation than a general question about how everyone's day was.

Once my kids knew that they'd be asked this question every night at the dinner table, they started focusing on noticing the good things during the day.

And it doesn't mean we ignore the not-so-good parts of the day. There are some evenings when it's hard for one of us to think of a really positive moment – we all have those days – so we'll often vent that to each other, before finding one tiny thing that went well.

Even if that something is just sitting around the dinner table, chatting about our day.

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2. The family that cooks together

Hazel gets her two kids, aged eight and six, involved in cooking the family meal a couple of times a week. "When they help prepare the food, they always eat it," she says.

It's not for everyone, but it's worth a try if you have the stomach for cooking with your kids.

3. BYO any replacement meals

A friend of mine, Karen, astounds me with her patience for her children's moody tastebuds. Instead of insisting on them eating what's on their plates, she has two rules: try the food before refusing it and, if you really don't want it, get something else – but it must be something you can get for yourself.

That is, there's no way she's getting up to cook or serve a second meal. But if the kids want something they can help themselves to, like cereal or baked beans, then they can go for their lives.

"What about the waste?" I asked Karen.

She replied, "Well, it's hardly been touched, so that's lunch the next day for one of us who did enjoy the meal."

Fair enough.

4. Chill out (to stop your own whingeing)

Confession: it's not just the kids who are prone to causing mealtime disharmony. Us parents are guilty of it too, especially when we're at the kids to eat their veggies or try new foods.

I know that when we get too caught up with what our kids are eating, dinnertime becomes stressful.

Instead, I try (and of course it doesn't work every night, but trying is the key) to relax about whether the kids are trying that new food or eating every vegetable on their plates.

5. Music and laughter

"Dinnertime at our place is fun," Deb, a mum of two, says. "That's our biggest priority, so we put on some music and keep the conversation light."

That's the dream, really: to have a fun time sitting down together, enjoying each other's company.