How to help your family connect over a meal: fun, games and great conversation

How do you make meal time something that everyone looks forward to? We've got loads of ideas to help your family gather together and spark great conversations.

Studies show that sitting down and enjoying a meal together can give an important boost to your family’s well being. But how do you actually get everyone to sit down and participate? And how do you spark the kind of conversation that helps everyone connect over a meal? Today, we're sharing how to get great conversations going at any family meal, and how to make mealtimes an occasion everyone looks forward to. 

Meals together are pretty basic: you gather around a table, you share food, you talk. In fact, they’re also incredible learning opportunities for skills like empathy and turn-taking. But it can feel surprisingly hard to get conversations going, especially if questions like “how was school?” get a grunt in return. To help everyone get into the swing of things, we love these ideas from Jenny Rosenstratch (creator of Dinner: A Love Story), a blogger and writer who’s spent a lot of time thinking about how to make family dinners work. She explored these questions with other parenting bloggers, and came up with a terrific series of posts and guest posts called How To Have Family Dinner that you can read in the original on her blog. Here are five techniques to get your family talking and enjoying meals together: 

Prepare your meal together: Cooking together is a smart way to get your kids excited about what they’re about to eat, and it doesn’t have to be fancy! Here’s how to get your kids started on cooking with you, plus some easy ideas to get kids to be more experimental in the kitchen. We’ve got lots of fantastic cooking projects for you here and an archive packed with family-tested weeknight recipes for you to try as well. 

Set the stage for listening to each other: Sitting down together is a special occasion: set the table and light some candles. Candles add a lovely warmth to any meal (try a candle-lit breakfast to cheer up a dark winter morning) and they’re a great way to motivate little ones to stay at the table - tell them that at the end of the meal, they can make a wish and blow out the candles. Making a little fuss can make any day feel more special: just check out the Yay It’s Wednesday Cake for inspiration! We also like these Rules of Dinner from Brooke Reynolds, which help set some dinner ground rules to promote a happy dinner: they include “only compliments to the chef” and “the table is a safe place” (“siblings don’t bicker, parents don’t lecture”). 

Ask a question: The best conversations can start with a simple question! Try going around the table and using Joanna Goddard’s easy tactic of asking each person one question (a conversation jar can help if you’re looking for question inspiration). Or, try a game like Mad/Sad/Glad, where each person at the table shares one thing they’re mad about, one thing they’re sad about, and one thing they’re glad about. More great ideas for getting your kids to talk at the table can be found here at the Family Dinner Project, and Jenny also has some great tips for encouraging your children to talk about their day here.

Play a game: If your family loves a light-hearted table game, there are lots to choose from here - even very young children will enjoy the alphabet games. And games can also be a useful way to brighten up a hard day - for example, playing Failure Ta-Da together at the table can help kids learn how to ask for help when it's needed. 

Share a story: There are some fascinating studies that suggest that kids who hear family stories (and parents who tell them) have better resilience in life. Try making a family recipe for dinner and sharing your memories of the person you learned it from; or play Two Truths and a Tale to share short family stories with your kids. There's further advice here on the benefits of sharing family stories around the dinner table, and advice on how to get started. 

We have lots of resources for you too: start with our collection of conversation starter cards and our resources page for more ideas to make mealtime something pleasant.

Most of all, enjoy the time you make together: connecting at the end of a busy day is good for everyone, parents included! For more everyday recipes, meal inspiration, and activity ideas, join us on Facebook and Instagram

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