Want your kids addicted to your dinners? Try these 3 dinnertime games...
First, I pinky promise, the following activities are super simple. I am quite lazy so you can count on me to provide solutions that are easy and that require minimal effort for my fellow parents.
A bit of backstory: I started playing games with my kids at the dinner table early on. These weren’t Gwyneth Paltrow-approved moments of conscious parenting… it was so I wouldn’t kill my children. Dinner games began as a distraction from the nightly melodrama that plagued our family between 5:00-6:00pm. Whining, pouting, bickering, and noisy melt downs appeared like clockwork. Enter “What Animal Am I” a game I totally made up on the fly, and a game my kids STILL want to play 5 years later.
What started as a simple way not to chug wine out of the box or strangle my kids, strangely ended up really improving how much, and what my kids ate each night.
I think the reason for this is simple: Happy Distraction= Happy Distracted Eating
If you are frustrated with how much dinner is getting eaten, or with the overall attitude of your crew each night, then you should try one of these too. More bites taken. More happiness all around.
Here are three different games you can introduce to your kids at meal time. Each is simple to execute, require no preparation (or very little), and need no special “stuff” other than google. My kids are currently 7 & 9 and they totally find these amusing. I believe these would hold up to about age 12 before needing an image overhaul. You can cutesy them up or down to suit your families ages or genders.
1.) CULTURE SWAP
pick a country that interests you. Read about the food culture of said country while dining and adopt some of their practices. (I love to start with India because it can feature kids eating with their hands, which they flip for!) As I read aloud, my kids continue to munch while they listen. If you are very ambitious you can incorporate an authentic dish to further the experience. I am not usually organized enough to make this happens and we seem to be just fine reading about Italian food customs while eating BBQ chicken. It’s fine. Don’t create more work for yourself, you do enough already. The real objective is uncovering fun and sometimes funny customs and foods that interest us.
STEP BY STEP:
Find a cool article about the food of a particular culture.
Tell your kids you will be going to India for dinner that night (or Italy, Greece, Russia, etc.)
Read cool article nabbed off google while kids eat.
Discuss and/or pretend you are there.
Try to incorporate what you are learning in some way.
-If a culture eats goat, pretend the chicken on your plate is goat.
-if children in France are allowed wine at dinner, pour milk or water into wine glasses for your kids to enjoy.
-Do they eat with their hands? Take away all the silverware.
-Do they eat on the floor? Carpet picnic time.
- Do they eat with chopsticks? Eat your spaghetti with chopsticks.
Here are some links to some fun articles if you want to use mine!
2.) ROYAL DINNER
This may sound babyish if you have older kids, but really, everybody likes to be bossy no matter the age.
STEP BY STEP:
Pull a name out of the hat and the person drawn becomes the royal at the table (prince, princess, king, queen, what have you)
Everyone else is a servant. (See, your older kids will totes like this.)
The new royal gets three royal commands. Something like.... “more milk” “cut my meat into squares” “everybody sing me a song.” They should be reasonable mealtime requests but other than that anything goes. Just make sure it can be done while at the table.
Take turns being the royal.
Why this works: First, you may get an insider peek at your kid's preferences at the table. Perhaps your newly crowned prince asks “I command you pick out all the red peppers out of this pasta salad”. You may realize they like pasta salad just fine… they simply don’t like is the peppers in it.
Second, You will get a turn at being royal and you can use that to your advantage. You may ask your servant to taste test your potatoes to make sure the neighboring kingdom hasn't poisoned them. What a hilarious way to accomplish the “one bite” rule. Food should be joyful and food should be fuel. Keeping meals light and fun is essential.
3.) WHAT ANIMAL AM I?
I had to include this one because it is the game that started it all in our family. It has nothing to do with food per se but is a lovely distraction and entertaining even for the adults. I do nudge my kids toward their food while we play. “everyone takes three bites before mommy’s turn, please” That tactic alone goes a long way.
HOW TO PLAY:
Oldest person at the table chooses an animal in their mind. Domestic, exotic, barnyard, or bird…anything goes.
One person at a time may ask a question that will help them guess what animal their family member is. We always start with “Where do you live?” “what color are you” How big are you” “what do you eat” to drill it right down.
A player may guess what animal they think it is when it is their turn. You may guess as many times as you want so long as you do it on your turn. We do encourage the kids to “keep asking questions” instead of blindly guessing, though.
The first person to guess correctly-wins.
You will be shocked at how difficult common animals can be to guess. Sometimes we will get stumped on something as basic as chipmunk!
WHY DO THESE GAMES WORK?
I believe a lot of us have lost our way in regards to how we approach family dinner. We are in so many places during the day we are lucky if we even have a chance to sit at an actual table. Meals are rushed, cooking is stressful, kids (parents) are grumpy, kids don’t eat what adults want to eat, and no one cares about family meals anymore because they kinda suck. Silly games are refreshing. They are distracting. They create opportunities for us to connect in a low-pressure way and encourage our kids to be interested in what's at the table.
It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.
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