We are excited to welcome Casey from Money Crashers to our blog today! Money Crashers is one of our Family Week partners. Each day over the next few weeks you’ll hear from some of our partners about family, dinnertime and more.
Everyone is familiar with games to make food fun for the tiniest of tots. The airplane spoon, for example, is a perennial favorite. If it wasn’t for that aircraft, a whole lot of baby food might just go uneaten. It’s the element of playfulness that gets them excited about food and relaxed enough to put unknown substances in their mouths.
But finicky eating doesn’t stop at toddlerhood. Kids, teens, and even adults can always benefit from a little bit of dinnertime diversion. Here are some ways to help your bigger kids get the most out of mealtime and become lifetime eaters.
1. Enforce Rules
When kids are unhappy at the table, everyone suffers. In reality, kids fuss and turn away from their plates often because they can. With some simple dinnertime rituals – rules, if you will – they’ll know what is expected of them and will be less likely to behave disorderly or throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want.
To start with, introduce the notion that what you make for dinner is what’s for dinner. No separate kid requests – if their bodies are hungry, they’ll eat. This makes family meal planning a lot easier. For picky eaters, you can begin a policy of finishing a certain percentage of the food on their plate, and then they can have dessert. For slow eaters, set a timer, and chat with them about their day as they eat. Introduce new healthy foods frequently, let them see you enjoying everything, and just sit back. You’ll be surprised how making less of a big deal actually gets the job done.
2. Have Nightly Rituals
Growing up, my family enjoyed the tradition of each person sharing their best and most challenging moments of the day. We called this our “high-low.” Other dinnertime rituals might be sharing a joke each night or taking turns choosing a topic for discussion. This bonds family members, creates memories, and most importantly, makes finishing food decidedly not the focus. With kids, sometimes that’s just the ticket.
3. Hold Theme Nights
Planning a Mexican dish for dinner? Along with the tacos or enchiladas, try playing some mariachi music and serving the meal on Mexican-flag paper plates. If it’s an Asian dish, buy some chopsticks and see who is best at picking up their bites this way.
Another theme night might be a luau: Cook chicken-and-pineapple skewers, stick little umbrellas into lemonade, and wear plastic leis from the†dollar store. You can even encourage kids to dress for the occasion. Be creative, and you’ll make each theme a learning opportunity as well. They’ll have eaten their entire dinner before any fuss even sets in.
4. Play Dinner Games
Whether it’s watching the big game at a sports bar or playing Keno at restaurants in Las Vegas, people love to be entertained at the table. This includes kids. You can try something simple, like I Spy, or you can kick it up a notch. For example, have everyone start their sentences with the same letter, and see who can go the longest without making a mistake. How about seeing who can speak in pig latin the longest? Perhaps every member of the family could have a special set of dishes, such as plates with their favorite cartoon†characters. It’s fun to be silly, even at mealtime. But be sure to end any games if the kids are just playing and not eating.
5. Involve Kids in the Cooking
Cooking with kids and letting them partake in preparing dinner has innumerable upsides. They learn about healthy food, measurements, and ingredients, and they’ll feel a sense of pride as the family eats their meal.†For added benefit, let them help pick out recipes†too. Cook new dishes on a regular basis, and perhaps have the kids rate the meals on a scale of 1 to 10. Don’t give children tasks that are age inappropriate, such as a first grader cutting up an onion. At the same time, present enough challenge to hold their attention. And most important: Be sure to compliment them on a job well done once you are consuming their contribution.
Dinnertime does not have to be mundane, boring, or torturous for kids and teens. Food is fun, and the sooner you impart that to your little ones, the more likely you’ll be to send lifelong healthy, eager eaters out into the world.
How do you have fun with your kids at dinnertime?
Casey Slide is a contributor for Money Crashers Personal Finance. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and young son and writes about lifestyle topics including budgeting, home improvement, and cooking.
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