5 Easy Dinner Rituals to Build Family Connection
Originally published May 2012
How can we make dinner a time for connection when we’re all tired and cranky?
I love when we can come together around the table and reconnect, and I have great memories of family dinners as a child, however, currently my husband is rarely home from work by dinnertime, and often I’m one tired mom trying to get three hungry kids fed. The temptation is to feed everyone oatmeal, sneak a piece of chocolate for myself and hideout in my bedroom after encouraging the kids to watch repeated junky TV shows.
The thing is, I don’t want my kids dinner memories to all be of a stressed out mom plopping them in front of TV – so I’ve come up with ways to simplify and de-stress dinner time. Bringing connection to this time of day motivates me to push through tiredness and make dinner, not oatmeal, happen.
Aside from my emeals subscription, which has simplified the “What will we eat?” conundrum for the most part, I also have found some low stress dinner rituals that help make dinner with kids meaningful in our household.
Easy Dinner Rituals for Connection
*Make it simple and be easy on yourself.*
Remember, you don’t have to do every one of these things every night!
Ask your child to make a centerpiece for the table. You can encourage a seasonal theme, ask them to pick flowers or select a piece of their own artwork to share with the family.
Light a Candle. The simple act of pausing to light a candle helps set this time aside in your day and gives people a chance to focus on being at the table.
Find a meaningful way to begin your meal. Religious or not, you can help bring gratitude and thoughtfulness to your meal time. You might try:
- Saying grace, or a prayer
- Singing a song
- Rising your glasses to say cheers
Ask your family about their favorite part of the day. You may learn things that surprise you, and this is a great time for children to learn about listening to others. This question helps everyone relive a fun day, or pick the good things out of a bad day. We also like these Table Topics Conversation Cards (affiliate) to get conversation going.
Celebrate your family’s unique dinnertime rituals. Does everyone have a specific chair? Do you make a family dinner that everyone loves? Do you have a silly way you encourage the toddler to eat? All of these little details, when repeated, become the rituals that make dinners a meaningful time of connection that give your children a sense of belonging and safety.
Make it simple.
Your dinnertime rituals do not have to be complex, they do not have to look like other people’s, and they do not have to be the ones you had growing up. You can take a few small details and add them to your meal times on most days (it doesn’t have to be a perfect dinner each night!) Soon your children will be the ones prompting you, “Hey! Let’s light the dinner candle!” or “Mama, are you forgetting to ask us something?”
What makes dinner special at your house? Is there something simple you do that other families could try? Leave a comment! And if you’re looking for ways to bring more connection to you dinnertime, I hope you are able to find an idea or two to try here!
For more simple ways to connect you may enjoy 100 Ways to be Kind to Your Child!
64 Positive Things to Say to Kids
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very truly said. Thanks for the great ideas. I will be trying some to establish dinner ritual at my home.
Since I grew up in a household where the evening dinner was the highlight of the day or sometimes the lowlight if someone had gotten in trouble! When I married my husband and I tried to make sure dinners were always a relaxing event. When he started driving an 18-wheeler and was gone from Sunday night to Friday night, weekend dinners became even more special, that was the time to catch up, exchange stories and see who could tell the best or worst joke.
Now that our kids are grown, my daughter is married with twin 8 year old children and our son lives up in Pennsylvania, our Sunday “dinners” are our most special time of all (unless our son is home on a visit of course). We Skype with our son while we eat dinner so he doesn’t miss out on the family news, jokes and general goings on. So we are one household that allows electronics during dinner….for a very good reason! As long as you are together, do what works for your family!
How fun that you’ve found a way to add you son into the Sunday dinner conversation! Thanks for the idea.
Cristal L Medeiros
And at breakfast i often wrap my son up like a burrito in fuzzy blankets (since he doesn’t like to leave his warm bed-who does!?!)
Cristal L Medeiros
We ask each other (even though sometimes we know) “whatd you have for breakfast? Lunch? Snack? Silly and simple but since not every meal is together its good to know and always sparks deeper conversation!
The Guilty Mommy
It really makes me feel good that we do most of these already. We do need to be more diligent on prayer. They do it before lunch at school so why don’t we do it at home. My daughter loves to help set the table, but I never thought about having her make a centerpiece. What a cute and simple idea. We do the high/low game which is basically what was the best part of your day and what was your worst part of your day. Based on some of the other comments, I think that is a common game but so cute. Every once in awhile we also take turns singing a song. This is always fun at Christmas time. The kids versions of carols crack me up.
Chris Jacobs Clark
We use battery operated candles. Great for our little ones (age 2 and 4) but maybe we can try a real candle this fall.
Creative With Kids
Helen, thank you. What a nice thing for me to read first thing this morning.
i love your website. i always stop and think about what is really important after stopping by. thank you.
Wow, I was just googling around tonight for some holiday tradition ideas and found your blog link from another awesome blog (Imagination Tree). Well wow, I’m an avid reader (lit major) but usually not so much of blogs, yet I think this is about post #30 for me tonight in this first sitting, and so now I’m finally commenting to tell you what a great blog it is. And that it totally resonates with me. You’re the mom I want to be, so thanks for all of the great ideas on how to do it. My husband travels a ton, and I just hadn’t figured out a way to make dinner time that pause in the day, that family time it needs to be when I’m so exhausted myself. Thanks again!
Hi! We only see my husband for a meal a day if we are lucky so we usually make good use out of the time. My kids are ten and seven. They have been trained to eat the healthiest items first from their plates. We say prayer, sit in our usual seats and then play a game I borrowed from a friend. It is called Hi Low. Each person takes a turn discussing the high point and the low point of their day with everyone else at the table. My kids love the ritual. Since I only have two children, one child does the napkins on odd days and one child does them on the evens. We do the same things with silverware. It helps out a lot. When they were younger, say 5 they had to take 5 child sized bites of what was served to them and then could be excused. Hope this helps.
Love these idea’s – with 3 teenagers and one very nearly not a teenager at the table as well as ourselves, we find that dinnertime is very often a time when ‘stresses, strains and strops’ all get left behind and a bit of humour does us all a lot of good. We all have our own seats at the table, and we take it in turns going round the table to take away the dishes. If you’re missing from the table when it’s your day you have to do it next time you’re there! We also don’t eat at the dining table on Friday and Saturday teatime, but instead at a big round table we have in the lounge (so we can watch TV at the same time) – Friday and Saturday teatimes are always looked forward to!! Oh, and we ALWAYS have homemade chips on a Friday!
Erin at OurKidsNet
Love these ideas to help bring families closer together!! Dinner time at our house is so important, especially with all the activities and different directions we’re going in throughout the day, it’s the perfect time to reconnect and enjoy a meal together 🙂
I just love the simple dinner blessing of, “for those who have hunger, let them receive bread. For those who have bread, let them receive a hunger for justice”
When I was growing up my grandmother (who lived with us) made dinner for us every evening.
It is something that I never forgot. I remember looking forward to dinner when I would get a chance to see my mother, grandmother and brother all together…we would just talk. One night a week my aunt and uncle would join us. There were always a lot of laughs.
I made my own rituals with my own family and now am doing the same with my grandchild. I have discovered that it does not have to be just dinner time it can be breakfast, lunch or dinner.
We have rarely missed a dinner time together as a family for over 20 years! (we did compromise and eat a little later as my husband is later coming home too) It is a favourite part of our day…when our children where younger (they are 19 and 21 now) we used to have waffles/pancakes or crepes with fruit and whipped cream for Early Dinner Sunday night. Afterwards we would play a game before bed time. Made planning for dinner easy, made the day a day to look forward to and bedtime was early and everyone was cheerful Monday morning.
We share a house with another family, so between us there are four kids under three. Partly to combat some hitting and biting in a proactive way, I bought three giant soft toys from a local pop shop. They act out (with the adults in the house) appropriate ways to play- take turns, offer each other toys etc. We have these little role plays when we remember with dinner, and if there is no behaviour to particularly focus on that day we do other things with the toys like sing an action song, or if it’s a special occasion like a birthday or Easter they might explain what the occasion is about. It’s been great watching the kids get into it and sometimes enact whatever role play we have just done.
I bet the kids love the role play, Jane. What a creative way to connect and learn together.
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We do a game called Mad, Sad & Glad. You tell one event of the day that made you mad (it can’t be about someone at the table, though), etc. I love hearing the Glad part of their day!
We do something similar Heather! We share our yay’s and boo’s for the day, even with guests who join us. We love how inclusive it is of all ages, even our three year old is contributing. It has helped our children identify emotions and emotional responses and we also love how it has helped all of us empathize with the sad parts of our days and celebrate the joys around the table. Shifting the focus off self is getting harder and harder with our individualized worlds and is an important skill to hone in on as listening skills are practiced. Blessings on your Mad, Sad and Glad endeavors!
At least once a week, we go around the table and say one thing we are thankful for. I write it in our gratitude journal. When the children are antsy and don’t want to sit for dinner, I bring out a search and find. We work on it together as we eat.
What a great post! Thanks for the ideas.
My husband works long hours, so we don’t always get to enjoy dinner together as a family. But, those days when he won’t be home for dinner, the girls and I still sit down together. A few weeks ago I started reading poetry aloud while we ate. It’s completely transformed dinnertime on those days when Daddy isn’t home. When Daddy is home we spend the time sharing about our day.
We’ve started reading at the table at lunch sometimes and it does work really well!
My husband often works during the evening so we try to always have breakfast together. We have flowers, set the table, put the toast in a toast rack and the milk in a milk jug – just little touches that feel a bit ‘fancy’. Then we talk about our dreams from the night before and our plans for the day ahead.
Sounds like a perfect start to a day @Charlotte.
We always try and sit down together for dinner even if that dinner consists of toast!! Sometimes it works so well and sometimes it is torture. My 4 year old loves to set the table, I let her put anything from the fridge on the table – sometimes that means every condiment we own in on the table but she is happy. I get to put them all away though of course.
Great post. We also light a candle and have our own seats. We were going well with dinner times but in the last two weeks my son will only eat one or two mouthfuls and then say how full he is – rather frustrating after making dinner! Trying to work through this by making sure he hasn’t snacked too much between meals and making it clear when his next food opportunity is, so fingers crossed it might improve!
Rebekah @ The Golden Gleam
I just enjoy the conversation we have with our daughter. At 4, she is getting to an age where the conversations can be more interesting, so I am enjoying that. We also have a rule of no phones at the table, and that helps keep us connected.
The Iowa Farmer's Wife
We pray together for each meal (usually Sweet P does it for us) and I’ve found that a simple prayer that is easy to remember is best. She says “Dear Lord, thank you for this day. Thank you for our food. Amen.” We also read a devotional at breakfast. She helps prepare most meals and then helps clean up. I found this is a great way to connect before and after the meal as well. She helps me load the dishwasher and throws away any paper items. We also do the favorite thing of the day!