Trading TV for talk at dinner
We came up with a new tradition at home recently.
It’s called Cards & Cocktails and involves a short game of 21 and a cocktail before dinner.
We do it almost every evening we’re all together. The kids love it because they drink out of martini glasses – not martinis obviously! But the charade is fun.
We make a cocktail of a little juice, some sparkling water (to dilute the sugar) and occasionally get fancy with some fresh herbs or spices like chilli and black pepper.
The flavoured sparkling waters (La Croix, Waterloo, Sprindrift) have been great for giving us variety. The kids also have a tiny bowl of chips or veggie sticks and hummus – it’s a little extra effort but they generally help get it all together. There are some perks to them growing up!
Why did we start it? I’m not sure! It just snowballed from a one-off into something we did increasingly regularly. The kids genuinely think it’s fun and they talk and talk. Other than car rides, it’s become my key time for listening to what’d going on in their lives. We had got a little lazy with dinner time at the table I confess. We still all ate together, but often with something on Netflix. We’re on re-runs of Brooklyn 99 at the moment. So funny!
Still, we’re heading back to the table more often now that we have moved. After weeks of boxes, we have a dining room that’s clutter-free.
There are huge benefits to eating round the table together. Although they complain occasionally, the kids seem good with it and all the research shows us that kids who eat around a family table feel well supported emotionally. It helps to cement their identity within a family – and even if they eye-roll their way through it, it's comforting too. For younger kids, eating together as a family has been shown to benefit vocabulary – I wonder if those are all “good” words. Ha! – and also makes children more likely to be adventurous with their food. All wins in my book!
If you’ve drifted from the table and would like to get back, here are some tips for getting started!
1. It doesn’t have to be every night
The studies show that the more kids eat together as a family, the better. But even one meal round the table has benefits. If you have conflicting schedules, tricky work hours, or are just too exhausted to form a conversation, remember that you don’t have to ace this seven days a week!
2. Eating out counts
It doesn’t have to be round your table, any table counts! So if you find it easier to do family dinner in a restaurant, then go for it! Just try and leave the devices in your bags.
3. Double up
If you are a family of two and you find it hard to get the conversation going, consider linking up with another family for dinner one night a week. You might find the conversation starter ideas below helpful.
4. Conversation starters
Although my two are currently talkers, there are days when they are more reluctant. Sometimes I might just sense that it’s “not the night” and we just relax with some TV. Other nights I persist anyway (this doesn’t always work!!) and we’ve had great success with the Would You Rather book for 11 year olds. It’s packed full of questions like, “Would you rather laugh like a monkey or cry milk from your eyeballs? Would you rather it be warm and raining or cold and snowing? Would you rather be able to be invisible or be able to fly?”
It’s all very wholesome but there are some suitably disgusting ones in there to make the kiddos laugh and laugh: “Would you rather eat a dead spider or a live worm?”
At Christmas we also always have a jar on the table full of Christmas questions that we’ve written ourselves, and take turns answering them: “If you could plan a Christmas surprise for anyone, who would it be for and what would it be? If you had to choose between one big present or a Christmas stocking, what would you choose?” You get the idea. And yes, I mentioned Christmas. Halloween is over so it’s fair game!
5. Simple games for younger kids
While I think it’s a good idea not to have actual toys at the table, games for little kids can be a great way to de-stress at the dinner table. We played a lot of the observation/memory game where one person would be asked to close their eyes and then answer a question: What colour shirt is your dad wearing? What picture is on the wall behind your sister? If they get it right, they get to ask someone else a question. If they get it wrong, the person who asked the question gets to go again.
6. Keep the food environment stress-free
If you have picky eaters then this one is for you! There is nothing worse than making dinner after a busy day and having it rejected. Stressing about wasted food and worrying about your kids' nutrition is miserable for everyone, especially when your goal is to enjoy family time.
Here’s what I have found consistently helpful for my family and for clients over the years:
A) Make sure that everyone is hungry. No snacks before dinner
B) Only offer one new food at a time eg if you are trying out quinoa, serve it with two things you know they like, such as chicken and broccoli
C) Only offer a small amount of a new food, the goal is to happily try it, not consume a large portion of it
D) If you think appetite may be limited, only offer a small portion to start with. This avoids wasted food and they can always have seconds. Good luck!
Catherine Burns is a qualified nutritional therapist. For more details: www.natural.bm, 505-4725, Natural Nutrition Bermuda on Facebook and @naturalbda on Instagram