You’ve probably heard a zillion times that eating together as a family is good for you. Studies show doing this a few times a week help kids to do better in school, take fewer risks, and learn to communicate better? But how are you supposed to get them there when everyone’s lives are hectic, filled, and overscheduled? Use the following ideas and printables to help you tame the hungry beasts and get more out of every meal.
Keep ‘Em Busy Before Dinner
Part of what makes family meals so rushed is just the getting there. Yes – it would be amazing if I could wave my wand and produce a healthy, balanced, attractive meal that my family wants to gather around in less than 15 minutes. But between the dog waiting between my feet for a stray crumb to fall, teenagers hovering and asking How much longer? with the impatience of a toddler on a car drive, and the younger kids turning the kitchen rug into a magic carpet, I am lucky to set the table in 15 minutes. This is when I need a plan – and I need to keep them busy – just long enough to prepare the meal.
Place settings – Encourage the kids to set the table – without just tossing a handful of random forks in a pile.
- Use this cheat sheet for your kids and let them set the table – It will pass the time and help keep them busy.
- Check out some of these napkin folding ideas – elementary and older kids can have fun trying to create the perfect swan or come up with their own creation. I use cloth napkins just made from cotton squares of fabric that I zig-zagged along the edges.
Placemats – Give Younger kids these printable placemats – there are 10 different borders and each child can have a unique placemat or you can print enough of the same kind for each family member. Kids can decorate the center of the placemat with self-portraits, pictures of their favorite foods, and words or pictures that describe what your child did that day (a great conversation starter for the meal, too!).
Make Some Menus – You can just have the kids use a chalkboard or dry erase board and let them write down a café-style menu, or use paper and crayons to make a menu to hang on the wall. You can also print these and let the kids complete the rest.
Pillowcase Chair Covers – These easy projects can add a special touch to any meal – no sewing needed! You can even use pillowcases you find at thrift stores, and supplies around the house. Just make sure that the case is wide enough for your chairs. There are many ways the kids can decorate their chair covers:
- Lay the pillowcase flat on the table and have the kids stamp their handprints on the fabric.
- Give the kids stampers or fabric paint to decorate their chair covers.
- Use chains of old jewelry, beads, or even belts to secure the chair covers.
- Simply tie with a bow – add a decoration if wanted.
Let the kids get creative – and they will stay busy, too!