By Lisa Brown, Crosswalk.com
Dinnertime is called and no one shows up. “Food is getting cold,” you call, and there is still no response. You yell for the tenth time, and finally the troop comes crawling in. Sitting kids complain, “yuck, leftovers,” and parents stand at the microwave heating up cold food that sat on the table longer than it should have. How many of us can relate to this scenario?
Wouldn't it be wonderful if dinnertime were more meaningful? But how?
First of all, it’s important that all members take responsibility in creating a special time together. It shouldn’t be left to one parent. Kids starting at age two can be helpers, too. Dinner is a great time to build memories and connect on a deeper level. It’s an opportunity to be intentional by making the time spent at the table engaging, warm, fun, and exciting.
Dinnertime can be eventful and everyone can add their time, talents, and creativity.
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Making dinnertime more meaningful.
Imgaine this: everyone is in the kitchen 40 minutes before dinner preparing the meal, setting the table, and creating a table centerpiece. Smiles are on faces as jokes are shared and giggles fill the air. When the food is ready to eat, proud helping hands serve the bowls of homemade food around the table. Happy voices express their excitement. Everyone takes delight in smelling the prepared meal that stirs the taste buds and makes a hungry tummy come alive. This can happen in your home; it just takes a little planning and commitment.
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Get your family involved.
It’s in the meaningful moments that memories are built and kids will keep wanting to come back home for dinner when they are all grown up.
So, how do we get from grumpy, complaining family members to everyone in the kitchen helping, making music with dancing feet and pans? We start by inviting everyone to a family meeting and setting the ideal expectation for everyone to follow -- together. With a plan in place, kids and parents can anticipate dinnertime joyfully.
Following are ten things you can do with your family to help make dinnertime more meaningful:
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1. Invite God to be part of your mealtime.
With God as the air that we breathe and the heartbeat of our life, it's an honor to acknowledge Him at mealtime. To do this right, we must extend our moment of prayer with a deeper sense of awe and praise. Mealtime can be a form of worship for the whole family to partake in. Prayer is more than just blessing the food.
We can do this by sharing Bible readings or short devotions. We could pull scriptures out of a bag, taking turns reading and then sharing ideas on how it can apply to everyday life. Or, try passing a thankful jar and a notepaper around so everyone can share what they are thankful for, then put their notes in the jar to review throughout the year as a reminder.
Family members need a safe place to come to and ask for prayer! Passing a prayer cup around the table is a great way to meet this need. Each family member can decide to put a private prayer request in the cup or to share their struggle openly. Members take turns praying for one another after the cup has been passed around. Or, each person can be prayed for before passing the cup to the next.
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2. Encourage your family's cooking creativity.
Take turns with your kids on a weekly basis by having them create a menu for a family dinner. Then take them shopping for the items, and help them make it! Invite older kids to do a meal all by themselves and surprise the family. Let younger kids stir in the ingredients or taste the food to make sure it's suitable for dinner.
Create a family recipe box with everyone’s dinner creations. Take pictures of meals with the cooks in action and put it on the other side of the recipe card. Perhaps you have recipes from your childhood that you loved and you could share them with your kids.
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3. Create meaningful centerpieces.
A table centerpiece adds beauty, fun, inspiration, and love to family gatherings around the table. A display of splendor shows members that being together during a mealtime is important, significant, and that you care about making dinnertime special.
Centerpieces can be flowers in a special family vase or wedding vase. Or, you could display children’s artwork or photos of events.
Seasonal centerpiece charms might include little knickknacks that tell a story. It could be a small family of pigs sitting on pumpkins, or squirrels eating nuts out of a bowl. Have some fun and sprinkle a little glitter around a cupcake fairy that sits comfy in a plant setting!
You could make a display with the aspen leaves that you and your family collected when you were up in the mountains. Or you could do a jar of seashells that you found at the beach. Or a bowl full of pinecones sprinkled with cinnamon oil from a mountain hike, or a woodsy wreath around a candle. Try adding a few glass bears! Keep an eye out for salt and pepper shakers that are crafted into cute little wild animals or flowers to enhance your centerpiece story.
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4. Change up your table setting.
Dishes, cups, and silverware are just as important as a well-cooked flavorful meal. Things look and taste so much better served on special table settings. Making a meal special doesn't always mean setting out your best china. China is lovely, but so are fun-themed dishes that show interests and capture the imagination.
Butterfly, sunflower, snowman, or woodsy dishes are just a few ideas. Bring out the dishes from grandparents that were used when you were a child. When kids are little, it’s fun to have special plates and cups for them. Perhaps save a cute plate or two for when they get older.
Change up the tablecloth or placemats, too. Encourage your kids to make placemats, or create one together: put one big sheet of white paper on the table, set crayons, markers, stickers, out and let everyone draw a creative picture or share words that express thoughts for the day. After dinner, you can play little games like tic-tac-toe -- right on your tabletop.
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5. Enjoy the teamwork.
Working together to set the table and clean up after dinnertime encourages family members to have more time with each other.
It’s an opportunity to share silly jokes while wiping down the table and sweeping the floor. Play lively music and sing along while unloading the dishwasher and setting the table.
It’s a beautiful memory when family members can think about the times that a new song was taught during cleaning up dishes. Or a thoughtful comment was made to encourage a sad heart. Your whole family can share their events of the day, and discuss future ideas as a team.
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6. Celebrate accomplishments.
Dinnertime is a great time to celebrate accomplishments. This can be done by providing a special-tasting meal that is a favorite, displaying a reward, and baking delicious cookies. Or, create a special sitting arrangement with balloons and a congratulations plate and cup!
Accomplishments include things like overcoming a fear, improving on a skill, winning a sports game, scoring a goal, getting a job, graduating, and so much more. We all need affirmation and recognition. Dinner is a great time to take notice of one another and show support.
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7. Celebrate holidays and birthdays.
Moments of honor happen when we take time out of our busy lives and share our time with loved ones. It’s a time to share our faith, culture, history, and beliefs. Through tradition, family members learn about their roots and who they are.
A Christmas meal is a time to help us remember that our Savior was born. An Easter dinner reminds us that we are set free from our sin. A Birthday dinner helps us take notice that our life matters.
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8. Practice hospitality.
Guests are a blessing and we can be a blessing to them. It’s a joy to get the whole family involved in the preparations for a visitor. Guests bring their own stories to share and this can add a great wealth of information. Our lives can mean so much more when we make friends with a stranger. It’s always refreshing and fulfilling to connect with those that we have not seen for some time.
We often times have no idea how our invitation means the world to our guest. They could be dealing with depression, loneliness, and brokenness. Our invitation just might be the very thing they needed to make it through one more hard day. The gift of hospitality adds richness to our lives and to others.
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9. Share great conversation.
Structured conversation time keeps the time meaningful and full of purpose. Free-for-all conversation is good at times, too, but not all the time. Sharing jokes and laughing is seriously the best kind of medicine for our soul. Telling happy stories about our day keeps us in touch with one another’s lives.
When done respectfully, religion and politics make great conversation. Sharing opinions and different perspectives helps us see other viewpoints that we may have not considered. It’s not productive to complain about things, but to help figure out solutions and be a change-maker. It’s about strategizing.
Here is a fun activity to get a conversation going: give everyone at the table a five-dollar bill to keep, and ask them what they are going to do with it. You can switch it up a bit, by giving them more or less. Change the question around and ask them how they can use this money to bless somebody else.
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10. Arrange a mealtime environment that's pleasing.
Where our dinner table sits in our home is important and what we have on the walls around our table will add to our mealtime experience. Our environment can be stimulating, and set a mood that is pleasing to everyone.
There are so many ways to create the kind of culture that enhances a family’s unique story. This can be done even more than candles and music. In creating an environment such as this, consider things that are appealing to all five senses.
You could have a wall area with photos of where you have traveled, or family pictures, or kid’s artwork. Consider creating a colorful wall display with interesting shelves that hold collectibles from places you have been or things of interest. This could include spoons, salt and pepper shakers, tea cups, plates and antiques for conversations about history.
A meaningful dinnertime provides stories, connection, and a sense of belonging. It’s the place and time that everyone feels included, cared for, and celebrated. It provides safety and an escape from a messy world. It’s important to make dinnertime a priority in our families!
What are some things you can do to make dinnertime meaningful?
Lisa Brown is an aspiring writer and owner of The Family Roadmap Blog and a Parent Coach at the National Center Of Biblical Parenting. She has a 10-yr. old son, a 7-yr. old daughter, and has been married to her husband for 12 yrs. Prior to marriage, she worked over 20 yrs. enriching the lives of hundreds of children and families. Lisa has a Bachelors in Social Work and Early Childhood Education. To meet with Lisa about a parent concern or if you would like for Lisa to write an article or blog post, you can contact Lisa here.
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