Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Spicing Up Your Family Dinners

Research shows regular family dinners are rewarding for children both academically and socially. Kids whose families routinely eat dinner together tend to have larger vocabularies, higher grades, lower anxiety and more resiliency. Sharing a main meal is good for family harmony, too.

With so many benefits, why do so many parents have such a hard time making mealtime a priority?  

According to a recent online survey of U.S. adults, commissioned Boys Town, and conducted online by Harris Poll revealed that parents with children under 18 in the household cite busy or conflicting schedules (both 38 percent) as the main reason they don't dine together on a regular basis. But “other reasons” was cited by seven percent of parents. Might boredom be one? 

When the dinner hour approaches in your home, does the anticipation set your kids’ tongues a-wagging? Or does the thought of spending an hour (or even 30 minutes) at the table with Mom and Dad – and without iPhones, tablets and other electronic gadgets – leave your kids feeling as cold and limp as last night’s lasagna?    

If your kids would rather dine and dash, munch in front of the TV or take their food to their rooms so they can text, play videos and not “have to” hang with you, perhaps it’s time to spice things up a little.   

Give Your Mealtime a Makeover 

Bridget Barnes, director of Boys Town’s Common Sense Parenting® program, says parents can make mealtime more interesting for kids by doing simple things, starting well before everyone sits down at the table.  

“Get kids involved in preparing meals by taking them grocery shopping and letting them help plan the menu,” Barnes said. “If they want their favorite food, let them help prepare it. When children have a hand in making the meal, they are more likely to want to eat the food and savor the experience.”     

Other ideas to help make family dinners more appetizing for kids include…   

  • Theme nights, like Taco Tuesdays, Stir-Fridays or Meatless Mondays. This can make mealtime an event everyone will look forward to with excitement. The theme can involve everything from the food and table settings, to background music and the dinner conversation. If food from another culture is being featured, introduce, practice or brush up on words and phrases in that culture’s language.   
  • Special notes and seating assignments. Do little things during mealtime that keep kids interested in staying at the table. Put notes with special messages under the dinner plates for kids to find and read aloud, or have a contest (with input from your kids) to decide who gets to sit at the head of the table.   
  • Fun conversations that involve everyone. Talk about topics that will keep your children’s attention, such as movies, sporting events and family vacations.  
  • Prayer or reflection. Let your children lead the family in saying grace or giving thanks. Go around the table and have everyone say something they are grateful or thankful for on that day.
  • Volunteering at a soup kitchen or shelter. As a family, serve food to the less fortunate in your community once a month or a few times a year. The experience will show your kids that having food on the table is a struggle for some, and give them a greater appreciation for everything they have.       

Dish Up Some After-Dinner Fun 

All of these ideas are simple little extras you can add to your mealtime to engage your children and make family meals a “together time” they look forward to and want to take part in. But the fun doesn’t have to end when the food is gone and the plates are cleared.   

Barnes recommends having some after-dinner laughs, too.  

Rather than retreating to the recliner and vegging out in front of a screen, get active. Play games, take a walk around the neighborhood, go for a family bike ride or do some other physical activity. You’ll not only model a healthy, active lifestyle for your children, but also make connections with them away from the table. These shared experiences strengthen family relationships and become cherished “forever” memories for you and your children. 

And that’s what adds real spice of family life. 


*Survey Methodology: This survey was conducted online within the United State by Harris Poll on behalf of Boys Town from January 21-23, 2015 among 2,057 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact 

Untitled 1
87% of your donation goes to save children Donate Now