It seems no matter how well you plan, pulling off a stress-free family dinner can be a struggle. Whether you’re stuck on the same old recipes, attempting to get a picky eater to try a new food, or searching for conversation topics, dinnertime can often feel like a chore. As the new year approaches, it’s a great time for new strategies. Here are 6 simple tips to spice up your dinner routine.
1. Break out of a recipe rut. Dinner no longer means a protein, starch, and side of steamed carrots. Instead, look for new flavor combinations or cooking methods. Try a one-pot dish, like farro with tomatoes, or a sheet-pan dinner where everything cooks together. Let veggies be the star of the show. Or switch it up by making breakfast for dinner. You can find many healthy, simple recipes with a quick internet search. Check out our Food for Health blog for great ideas to try today.
2. Take it outside. Try firing up the grill or enjoying your meal al fresco for a refreshing change of pace. Add a fun twist by packing a picnic and heading to a nearby park. Or check out a farmer’s market to find fresh, local foods to use at your next meal. And if it’s a chilly evening, go for some comfort food to warm you up — like a white bean soup or turkey chili.
3. Make the table a screen-free zone. Dinner is a time to reconnect — not stare at a screen. Nothing zaps the life from a meal like trying to talk to someone who’s focused on their phone. Before you take a seat, move phones, laptops, and tablets to another room — and turn your attention to the people, and food, around you.
4. Upgrade your small talk. It can be tough getting kids to speak up during dinner. Avoid general "how was your day?" type of questions, and instead, get specific. Try the "Thorns and Roses" game, where everyone shares the most enjoyable and challenging parts of their day. Ask your kids to share something that made them laugh. Still having trouble? Share a funny story from your childhood — if you’re laughing and having fun, your friends and family will too.
5. Include the whole family. Whether it’s setting the table or juicing a lemon, let your kids help. It’s a great way to get them excited about the meal — and cooking. Let them pick a recipe or choose a theme for the night. Another tip — let go of control. It may not look as pretty, and the kitchen may be messier, but the point is to help kids develop an appetite — not just for food, but the whole process.
6. Have a backup plan. Meals won’t always come together as seamlessly as you’d like. Take a breath and remember that the most important part of dinnertime is being together — not perfection. Set yourself up for an off night by having staples in your pantry, like tomato sauce and whole-grain pasta, that you can reach for in a pinch. Or find a favorite neighborhood spot that you can go to, or call for takeout, on those nights when cooking just isn’t going to happen.
With a few small changes, you can make dinner a time to enjoy and refuel with friends and family.