Let one parent do dinner duty.
Have supper as a family even if one parent isn't able to make it, recommends
Weinstein. This way eating together is more likely to become a regular
occurrence, she explains. "If my husband, Paul, can't make it home for
suppertime, we go ahead and eat without him — but we set a place for him
anyway" says Julia McGill, a 42-year-old mom in Keswick, VA. McGill's sons,
Matthew, 10, and Adam, 8, look forward to their uninterrupted time with Mom,
but they're glad she makes Dad part of it, too. "My youngest son gets upset
if 'Daddy doesn't have a plate,'" she says.
Introduce a before-bed snack.
It's fine to push dinner later once in a while for older kids. But as
Vanessa Monticelli, 31, of Union City, NJ, knows, younger kids just can't last
that long. Her solution? "On the nights my husband works late, I'll usually
feed our son, Enzo, 2, his dinner around 5:30 or 6 p.m." she says.
"Then when Dad gets home around 7, we all sit down together and Enzo eats
fruit or dessert while we eat dinner and catch up on the day's events."
Count your blessings.
"We begin each meal with everyone saying three thankful things" says
McGill. "It can be as simple as 'I'm thankful we're having Jell-O,' or more
elaborate, like 'I'm thankful that my math test is finally over!'" she
explains. "It changes our focus from whatever negativity the day has
brought, such as conflicts with peers or bosses, to the positive things that
happen in our lives."
Get the group talking.
"In our family, the dinner table conversation often gets split in
two" says Cari Noble, 32, of Long Beach, CA. "The kids — Reid, 10, Max,
7, and Miles, 5 — talk to each other, and my husband and I have a separate
conversation. But the activity-card set Dinner Games & Activities ($16,
uncommongoods.com) has gotten us all talking together." Other great
dinnertime games sure to get tongues wagging: TableTopics Family Conversation
Edition ($25, tabletopics.com) or a simple "conversation jar" filled
with slips of paper that are scribbled with fun, open-ended,
imagination-provoking questions (such as "If you could have one magic
power, what would it be and why?") that each family member takes a turn to
Let the kids help out.
About once a week the Knoll family of Minneapolis has "Kids Cook
Night." Mom Michelle, 38, helps the boys — Alex, 6, Ben, 4, and Max, 11
months — decide what to make by throwing out suggestions and letting them look
through recipe books. "I let the boys do as much as they can, but I handle
any cutting, the stove, oven, or other potential hazards" says Michelle.
"They take pride in their work and love to tell their dad how hard they
worked preparing and cooking dinner for the family."