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Getting your family together for dinner

An entire family sitting around the table enjoying a home-cooked meal and one another’s company seems almost like a fairytale these days. More and more frequently, buffet-style set-ups and urges to head to the computer or TV take precedence. Here are some ideas to adopt for getting your family excited about meal-time again.

Little helpers:

Toddlers love nothing more than to feel helpful and important. Invite little ones into the kitchen and get them enthusiastic about preparing dinner. First, involve your family in the meal-planning process. Before grocery shopping, ask each member of the family to pick a meal especially for them on a specific day. This will make each person excited for that day and feel special. Then during meal preparation, ask your younger kids to bring you ingredients, such as an onion from the pantry, or to be in charge of timer.

Give older children the responsibility of setting the table, washing and cutting vegetables or making the salad. Think about bringing a stereo or Ipod docking station into the kitchen to make meal-making into a family party. Play your family’s favorite movie soundtrack or sing-alongs. Remember that the goal is to turn off the TV and shut off the computer to bring the family together.

More than food:

Create an entire experience around dinner instead of inhaling food, rushing from the table and then cleaning up.

Check out these themes:

  • Plan a Mexican night with chips and salsa, tacos, beans and rice. Make it a rule that everyone has to say please and thank you or one good thing that happened during their day in Spanish.
  • A Hawaiian BBQ luau is another fun meal. In addition to using “aloha” and “mahalo,” decorate your back patio with bright lanterns and tiki torches. Start off with tropical drinks accented with umbrellas and have everyone wear leis.
  • Take your family out to the baseball game! This requires low-maintenance cooking but can be as much fun as if you were really cheering in the stands. Everyone should come to the table wearing a baseball cap. Set out peanuts and popcorn while preparing hotdogs and fries. Halfway through dinner have your family stand up, stretch and sing at the top of their lungs, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame!”
  • Go back into time and transform your kitchen into a fortress. Make a smorgasbord of turkey legs and lamb served in an iron cauldron with bread and butter. Make it a rule to eat with your hands and drink grape juice out of a goblet. Eat like a Viking!
  • Turn dinner into breakfast. Don’t let anyone come to the table without wearing their pajamas and slippers. (This is a great way to get the kids ready for bed early!) Cook pancakes in fun shapes with chocolate chips or a variety of berries.Incorporating a few of these ideas into your meal planning will surely make spending time together as a family fun, unique and memorable.
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