Keeping Kids Engaged at the Dinner Table

Health & Wellness

May 12, 2020

There’s no denying the COVID-19 pandemic has altered our daily routines.

But one positive aspect of stay-at-home orders is you now have more time to spend with your family.

Families are taking advantage of their less chaotic schedules to sit down and enjoy homemade meals together. For some, sitting down for that family dinner might be a new experience. For others, family dinners were already a regular part of their routine.

But whether it’s new routine or old hat for you, two months in to all this new family time, and you might be finding new struggles to communicate with each other at the dinner table.

Regardless of what situation your family is used to, it is important to take advantage of the relationship building that only happens around the table.

IU Health pediatric endocrinologist Tamara S. Hannon, MD, MS shares advice on how parents can keep their children engaged during family meals.

“Incorporate fun things to shift the focus off the food and put it more on the family enjoying time together,” said Hannon.

Here’s several ideas:

Plan Themed Dinners

Take family dinners to the next level by incorporating themes to your meals, Hannon said.

Get creative with your kids’ favorite characters, hobbies, or animals to plan a meal around. Plan together making costumes, decorations or music that go along with your theme. This win-win adds activities to your children’s schedules while getting them excited for family dinner.

From a simple “breakfast for dinner” to a more elaborate “under the sea” dinner party, working unique themes into meals is a great way to create memories to last a lifetime.

Get Kids Involved

Planning meals and cooking together is not only a fun family activity, but it also allows children to get excited to eat the nutritious meal they helped make. The valuable skills children learn in the kitchen serve them into adulthood.

Parents should consider assigning age appropriate tasks to children throughout the meal preparation process suggests Hannon.

“Getting kids involved in the cooking process is a sure-fire way to get them more interested in trying new things at dinner,” Hannon adds.

From picking out recipes through clearing the table after eating, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to be hands-on in the kitchen.

Turn Off Electronics

Stay present with your children by saving screen time for after meals. Use family dinners as an opportunity to slow down and bond with one another said Hannon.

Allowing electronics devices at the table not only distracts from meaningful conversation but can also result in over or under-eating.

Children learn by example. Agreeing as a family to disconnect from technology allows for more engaging and enjoyable meals.

Provide Conversation Starters

As we spend more time at home together, simply asking your children, “What did you do today?” may start to create pretty redundant conversations.

To make sit-down meals something your children look forward to, come up with fun “mystery questions” to discuss at the table said Hannon.

Get inspired by some of these conversation starters that will leave the whole family smiling:

  • If you had three wishes, what would they be?
  • Describe your perfect day.
  • What did you do to help someone today?
  • If you could make any animal your pet, which would you choose?
  • What is one fun activity you are looking forward to this summer?
  • If you joined the circus, what would your hidden talent be?
  • Name your favorite thing about each person at the table.
  • If you could give yourself a nickname, what would it be?
  • What is one thing that made you laugh today?
  • Do you think it’s more fun to be a parent or a kid? Why?
  • If you could pick any superpower, which would you choose?
  • What is something you would like to learn this year?
  • Name three things you are grateful for today.

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