Hit the Reset Button for Family Meals: Dinner Solutions for Families

4 years ago
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A friend called me last week, and as we discussed our day, we inevitably came to the question that plagues us every day at 3pm.

“What are you making for dinner tonight?

I have to be honest: On the days I feel ill prepared, this question makes me sweat with panic.

I could hear my friend suffering through that familiar place. The one that dreads family mealtime and the begging and pleading and uneaten food. The rut of dinner.

I have three dinner solutions in my pocket that I call on when I need to shake things up. So far, they haven’t failed me yet. I don’t do them often. Just on the days when I feel I just can’t bear to make it through another dinner. So I started sharing some ideas with my friend.

She tried a couple of them, and reported back that her kids LOVED it. I’m talking peaceful meal, everyone ate, mom and dad were happy kind of dinners.

So, I thought, why not share them with you?

Here are three dinner solutions that work for me when I’m in a rut.

Mexcillent Meals

It all started with this Facebook status from Kelley Nettles of Kelley’s Breakroom.


One night, while the kids begged to snack on tortilla chips as I scrambled to make tacos, I remembered this post and saw the light.

“Welcome to Thomasita’s!” I yelled to the kids in my best hostess voice.

Then I poured the bag of tortilla chips in to a bowl, brought paper and crayons for them to color, and took their order.

Since then, what was once a plain taco dinner has turned in to a Mexican fiesta. Pandora has a great Mariachi station and I fire that up before the kids begin to loiter around the kitchen. I set up their placemats, serve chips and salsa, and await their seating. It’s all Chi-Chi’s and Don Pablo’s up in here.

Dinner solutions 1

Jon and I sip margaritas (a.k.a. “adult lemonade”) while the kids get to drink lemonade instead of milk, and they happily sit at the counter munching chips while we make dinner.


Everyone makes his or her own tacos, buffet style, and dinner suddenly feels like a treat rather than a chore. It’s like going to a restaurant without having to fork over your credit card at the end. Or apologize to patrons behind you that have been accidentally showered with shredded Monterrey Jack.


Bad Manners Night

This tactic may not be for everyone, as it requires relinquishing control a bit. If you get all twitchy at the notion of your kids being gross at the dinner table, then maybe skip this one.

It’s a night where the kids get to do whatever the heck they want (within reason). They’re allowed to burp, put their feet on the table, talk with their mouths full, wipe their mouths on their forearms, shun utensils. We established some ground rules before we started (throwing food is a no-no), and I usually try to pick something that’s easy to clean up, like hot dogs or pizza. The hardest part is keeping my mouth shut and letting them have fun.

My kids loved this so much that we’ve designated a day a month to do this, and henceforth, the 16th of the month is Bad Manners Night. It makes sitting through all of the other 29 dinners a month manageable, because they know eventually they’ll get to break some rules. And some months my kids completely forget, as if they’ve already gotten it out of their system.

Tapas for Toddlers

Okay, so my kids aren’t toddlers anymore. But occasionally, we decide to deviate from our traditional meal and opt for tapas night. It’s your basic “snack dinner.”

I usually put out a variety of appetizers, like crudité and dip, some pretzels, cheese and crackers, and if I have them on hand, some frozen items I can heat quickly like dumplings or chicken tenders. The kids aren’t required to eat at the dinner table, but instead we gather around a coffee table in the living room. The kids feel like they get to be a bit sneaky by not having an official sit-down dinner, and I get to skip stirring anything on a stove. Boom! Dinner solved.

Essentially, when I find myself in a dinner rut, escaping the confines of a traditional dinner and creating a new environment does wonders for my kids' eating habits and our family’s psyche. These dinner solutions are like a reset button for our family meals. And, I’m always open to new suggestions.

Especially around 3pm.

Have a dinner solution you'd like to share? I'd love to hear it!  Drop me a comment below, or continue the discussion with me on Facebook or Twitter.