Seven Mealtime “Games” to Encourage Family Dinners

It’s hard to believe we’re back to the daily routine of stuffing backpacks, assembling school lunches, and checking nightly homework but that’s the new reality for us and for families everywhere. With school back in full swing and the shift back to regular routines, we thought now would be a great time to focus our attention on a topic that’s near and dear to our hearts: family dinners.

Don’t you just love this photo? It was taken by Kristen, a mom of two from Danville, GA, when she tested the Silly Salmon Noodle Bake recipe for our cookbook, No Whine with Dinner. Her husband and son seem pretty eager to try “Dinner Tonight!”

Family dinners provide an opportunity for parents to role model good eating habits — if mom and dad gobble up their peas and carrots, the kids are more inclined to follow in their foot steps. And we know from recent research that when children and teens share family meals, they are more likely to maintain a healthy body weight and eat a healthy diet, and less likely to engage in disordered eating practices such as bulimia or extreme dieting. Eating meals as a family also sets the stage for stimulating conversation.

In the real world, however, even if you put a dynamite meal on the dinner table, in some households, finicky eaters may push their food away, active toddlers may prefer playing with toys to sitting still at the table, and busy teens who bounce from activity to activity may grab dinner and eat it on the run. Given those scenarios, we decided to conduct a comprehensive review of mealtime “games” designed to keep families (especially children) engaged at the dinner table… and eating a healthy diet.  Read on for a look at our favorite dinner games, conversation starter kits, placemats, and playful utensils.

TABLETOP DISCUSSION GAMES

The Family Dinner Box of Questions: Cards to Create Great Conversations (Retail price: $19.95)
Appropriate for children ages 6+, you’ll find 82 laminated question cards in this round, playfully illustrated container. With questions like, “Is there a food or dish that you used to hate when you were younger but that you like now?” “What is your favorite family tradition?” and “What have you done this week to protect our environment?” this collection of conversation starters is sure to help any busy family bond and connect at mealtime.
> To learn more, visit MelissaAndDoug.com

Family Table Topics: Questions to Start Great Conversations (Retail price: $25.00)
Connect at family mealtime with this fun mix of kid-friendly questions. 135 laminated question cards come in a cool acrylic cube and range from silly to thought-provoking: “What would be on the menu for your ultimate birthday dinner?” “What family or school rule would you most like to change?” and “Which famous athlete would you love to meet?” Table Topics comes in other editions including Family Gatherings, Gourmet, and Grandparents.
> To learn more, visit TableTopics.com

PLACEMATS

Doodles at Dinner placemats (Retail price: $10.99)
Created by artist Deborah Zemke, this series of 36 tear-off paper placemats brings out the inner artist in everyone. Designed for ages six and up, each placemat offers step-by-step instructions for creating mini masterpieces such as a puffin, a praying mantis, a woolly mammoth and swans. Once they learn how to doodle all 36 images, family members can move on to Doodles for Breakfast and Doodles for Lunch!
> To learn more, visit BlueAppleBooks.com


PLATES AND UTENSILS

Play with Your Food (Retail price: $19.99)
Yes, it’s okay to play with your food especially when it motivates toddlers to try new things. The Play with Your Food kit comes with a four-sectioned dinner plate, a spinner, and a matching mug. Depending on the personal “taste” of your youngster, you can pick from three different themes: fairy princess, dinosaur, or transportation. To play the game, each child gets to spin the spinner and then eat from the section of the plate where the spinner lands. It’s hard to say “no” to things like broccoli when the spinner (or fairy princess) says, “try it.”
> To learn more, visit DaydreamToys.com

Constructive Eating (Retail price: $14.95 plate / $19.95 set of three construction utensils)
Children ages two to four (and sometimes younger) will find it hard to resist these “construction” utensils and plate. In general (but certainly not always), the construction theme appeals to boys. So the company also created three garden-themed utensils with a fairy perched on each one as well as a garden-themed plate. The products are intended to help children develop their motor skills while making dinner time fun. Carter Malcolm, the owner of Constructive Eating, shared a personal story that really warmed our hearts, so we’re now sharing it with you: “One of our favorite emails to date was from a mother of a two-year-old. She told us that our utensils had become too popular with her son. In addition to carrying them with him throughout the day, he was also sleeping with them on his pillow. The mother was struggling because she would have to sneak into his room at night, retrieve the utensils, wash them and then replace them before her son woke up the following morning.”
> To learn more, visit ConstructiveEating.com


TABLETOP GAMES

The Original Dinner Games (Retail price: $15.95)
For families with children ages six to 12, check out Dinner Games, a rectangular-shaped metal box filled with 51 laminated game cards. The cards are color coded by educational skill — silly games, numbers and math, phonics and vocabulary, memory games, and so on. For younger kids ages three to six, consider Beginner Dinner Games, also designed to add fun and lively conversation to family mealtime.
> For more information, visit FamilyDinnerGames.com

Gather ‘Round Dinner Game (Retail price: $24.95)
Young children love pressing buttons especially when there’s a silly noise or blinking lights involved (though that can certainly drive parents a little crazy)! To play, someone at the table pushes the button and the blinking light lands on one of the dinnertime activity prompts. With 132 games to choose from — everything from Eat and drink with your opposite hand for the next minute, Eat some veggies and flex your muscles, and Everybody name as many green foods as possible — it’s ideal for children ages five and up.
> For more information, visit FamilyDinnerGames.com

We always love hearing from our podcast listeners and blog readers, and recently we asked you to tell us why shared meals are important to your family. Here is what you had to say!

Meredith: “Family dinner time for us is utmost important as we feel it’s our time to connect with the boys and share about each others day without interruptions. A tradition that we feel brings us closer together.”

Jody: “I have a very picky eater. And I find when we sit together as a family to eat, she will more often than not eat what we are eating.”

Katie: “Family dinners are the one time in the whole day where we are able to sit down together and talk without the outside distractions of the world. It’s our connection time and therefore very important.”

Christa: “I would say we have family dinner pretty much every night. I’m a stay-at-home mom of three and my oldest is only five and not involved in too many activities yet. The TV goes off, and we all have our regular spots to sit. We start out with a prayer and we just eat and talk. My husband works late a few nights a week, but at least I get to sit with them each night.”

Beth: “I grew up in a family of six and we always sat at the dining room table for dinner. Mom was often too tired to eat much, but still it was a time to share before everyone dispersed for homework, etc. Today my own family of three has a sit-down dinner in the kitchen at least five nights a week. Sometimes it is a rush given school, work, and sports, etc, but I still think it is worth the effort both for the nutrition and the time to interact and connect.”

Disclosure: After previewing all of the above products online, we requested and received sample products for review.

74 Responses to “Seven Mealtime “Games” to Encourage Family Dinners”

  1. Lori on August 12th, 2011

    Family dinners are important to us to keep connected. It’s how we catch up on our day. I love ideas on how to make dinner time more fun! Thanks for the contest!

  2. Jamie on August 12th, 2011

    These games look like great dinnertime fun! I would love to win them. Family dinners are important because it’s the time to catch up. We play lots of games already – The thankful game where we go around and say what we’re thinking for, the raise your hand game (Raise your hand if the fish is your favorite part of dinner, raise your hand if you have water w/ dinner), 20 questions, high/low between 1-100, you name it!!

  3. Leigh-Ann on August 12th, 2011

    We love our family dinners. It’s pretty rare when we don’t all eat together at night. My boys especially like to talk about the best part of their day & the worst part of their day. We turn off the tv, don’t answer the phone and just talk about what’s been going on.

  4. Beth on August 12th, 2011

    It is the one time per day that our family always is together. This is priceless. KIds grow up so fast.

  5. Suzanne Haiker on August 12th, 2011

    When we were growing up, my dad often started a “go around the table verbal game” of some sort, such as…”What was the funniest thing that happened to you this year?” I tried to do the same when my 3 kids were young too….It is a way there everyone gets an equal chance to share, and be listened to, while also be entertained…

  6. Miranda on August 12th, 2011

    I love our family dinners even though they are sometimes hectic with the little ones. It just feels great to have the whole family in one place enjoying some good food.

  7. Miranda on August 12th, 2011

    I subscribe to the rss feed.

  8. Miranda on August 12th, 2011

    I like you on FB.

  9. Karen H. on August 12th, 2011

    A few years ago I purchased “The Original Dinner Games” and I when we play something, my kids eat what is on their plate without really thinking if they like it or not (because the love playing the games). Of course, I’m not completely sure this is the best objective either.

  10. Tara Oliver on August 13th, 2011

    family dinner is so important to me. my kids are young, but I know that by starting doing family dinners now will help us to communicate better and stay in touch in the future as we get busier. love these game ideas! thanks!

  11. Tara Oliver on August 13th, 2011

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  12. Tara Oliver on August 13th, 2011

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  13. carrie on August 13th, 2011

    Family dinners are important for reconnecting after going our separate ways during the day. It also gives us time to slow down and just be together for a while. At our table, everyone takes a turn telling about their day. We pray before our meal, so it gives us pause to be grateful.

  14. Mary on August 14th, 2011

    Family meals are so important for connecting with each other and making sure your family is getting the healthy nutrition they need from toddlers to teenagers and beyond. We like to share our highs and lows of the day and then talk about something we are looking forward to.

  15. EA-The Spicy RD on August 14th, 2011

    Love all these fun games! Dinnertime for us is a great way to chill out and talk about everyone’s day. Since my 8 yo started football practice recently, dinner have gotten later but we eat together every night. We are also very lucky to be able to have regular Sunday night dinners with both sets of Grandparents!

  16. Amanda on August 14th, 2011

    My husband and I really find dinner to be an important time for our family. dinnertime games would be a really fun way for us to enjoy it even more. Especially when our 3 year old takes about 30 minutes longer for us to eat than us. :)

  17. Amanda on August 14th, 2011

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  18. Amanda on August 14th, 2011

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  19. Kristin on August 15th, 2011

    Family dinners are invaluable, even in the worst of times when we’re all grumpy. It is just so key to our family that we have those meals to connect through the chaos. Would love anything to keep it more interesting!

  20. Jill M. on August 16th, 2011

    I never grew up having family dinners, but when I started dating my husband, I was introduced to the concept by his family. I noticed how much more connected their family was on a daily basis and made a commitment to have our family eat together every night. Now, having two kids, dinner together is a tradition that we treasure.

  21. Beth on August 17th, 2011

    I grew up in a family of six and we always sat at the dining room table for dinner. Mom was often too tired to eat much, but still it was a time to share before everyone dispersed for homework, etc. Today my own family of three has a sit-down dinner in the kitchen at least 5 nights a week. Sometimes it is a rush given school, work, and sports, etc, but I still think it is worth the effort both for the nutrition and the time to interact and connect.

  22. Stacey on August 18th, 2011

    We eat as a family every night. We love the time to catch up and talk to our kids about their day. I also love that we eat together so we all eat the same thing. As a result of doing this since out oldest was 6 months old (we used to eat on the couch in front of the TV) our kids eat just about anyting. Thank you for all the great ideas and suggestions. We are having the skillet pasta with meat for dinner tonight- I modified it for the crock pot- I;ll let you know how it come out!

  23. Wendy on August 19th, 2011

    We all eat about 100 times better if we all sit down together. When I feed the kids first, I find myself reaching for convenience foods that I know they’ll eat (frozen peas, turkey meatballs) and then I’m too tired to cook a nice meal for my husband and myself later. If I’m cooking for all of us, the kids get exposed to new foods and I put a more complete meal together.

  24. Amy J. on August 22nd, 2011

    I want my kids to grow up eating healthfully and know that family dinners are the best way to make that happen. My family usually ate3 dinner together when I was growing up and I want to give my kids the same kind of memories. I love the idea of the questions to keep everyone talking at the table!

  25. Amy J. on August 22nd, 2011

    I susbscribe to your RSS feed.

  26. Amy J. on August 22nd, 2011

    I tweeted about your giveaway

  27. Amy J. on August 22nd, 2011

    I “like” you on facebook

  28. Danelle on August 24th, 2011

    Dinnertime has always been special and important to us. It is the time where we slow down and tune out everything else. We go around the table and discuss a high and low point of our day. This allows everyone the chance to offer advice or just talk about anything.

    danellejohns at gmail dot com

  29. Danelle on August 24th, 2011

    I am a google reader subscriber.

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  30. Danelle on August 24th, 2011

    I like/follow you on FB-DanelleJohns

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  31. Hannah on August 25th, 2011

    Family dinners help my child see a positive model of healthy eating. I loved this podcast–the product reviews and listener suggestions were great!

  32. corina kelley on August 28th, 2011

    I have 2 toddlers and to keep meal time interesting for them, I will read a fun book while we eat. I have some books that are based around eating (“How Dinosaurs Eat their dinner” and “10 hungry Monsters”).

  33. Jackie on August 28th, 2011

    Family dinners are our space between chaos, our time to exhale the stress of the day, our time to reconnect. Around the table we learn about each other’s days, we discuss matters great and small, and when we’re lucky, we learn something about ourselves or the world…even if it’s that we don’t like green olives.

  34. Jeanne S on August 28th, 2011

    Family dinners are a time for us to just be together without any interference from the ‘outside world’. My girls are also more likely to eat a good nutritious dinner when they see the adults eating the food on the table.

  35. Susan on August 28th, 2011

    Family dinners are important because among the chaos, the spills, the interruptions, we (all 7 of us) are seated together as a family.

  36. Betty on August 28th, 2011

    Family dinners are important to just stop the day and connect with the ones that we love the most!

  37. Christa on August 28th, 2011

    I would say we have family dinner pretty much every night. I’m a stay at home mom of 3 and my oldest is only 5 and not involved in too many activities yet. The tv goes off, we all have our regular spots to sit. We start out with a prayer and we just eat and talk. My husband works late a few nights a week, but at least I get to sit with them each night.

  38. Patricia Correa on August 28th, 2011

    We have dinner every night as a family, it is important to keep the family together. Would love to have some games to play while eating!!!

  39. Katie on August 28th, 2011

    Family dinners are the one timein the whole day where we are able to sit down together and talk without the outside distractions of the world. It’s our connection time and therefore very important.

  40. Katie on August 28th, 2011

    I am an email subscriber.

  41. Katie on August 28th, 2011

    I Like you on Facebook.

  42. Jennifer M on August 28th, 2011

    Family dinners are important to foster a close knit family. I think the games is one way we can have more interaction and enjoyable dinner times.

  43. Jennifer M on August 28th, 2011

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  44. Jennifer M on August 28th, 2011

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  45. Jennifer M on August 28th, 2011

    I twittered this amazing deal

  46. carrie r. on August 28th, 2011

    i like you on facebook.

  47. Kristen on August 28th, 2011

    Now that the diva is in “big kid school” dinner time is packed full of info! And it is time for daddy & diva to bond since they haven’t seen each other all day! I tweeted, FB’d, follow you on FB, get emails from you, follow you both on twitter, and listen to your podcast – is there an intervention for MMM addiction?

  48. karen on August 28th, 2011

    famly dinners are so important to find out best and worst of everyone’s day and what they like and don’t like.

  49. karen on August 28th, 2011

    i like you on facebook

  50. Ann on August 28th, 2011

    Mealtime is a drag as I have a child who doesn’t care to eat and another who will shuffle down the food. I’m in for anything that will make it more enjoyable.

  51. Laurie on August 28th, 2011

    I subscribe to your blog with Google Reader. Love the mealtime ideas!

  52. Laurie on August 28th, 2011

    Family dinners are a time when we can talk, laugh and connect again after a busy day when we may not be all together. We have fun giving my one year old new foods to try! So far he’s loved almost all of them!

  53. Amy Taylor on August 28th, 2011

    We always try to eat a family dinner at night. My girls 3 and 5 often fight and try to talk over each other while they try to tell us about their night

  54. Deb Gale on August 28th, 2011

    It’s the only time when the computer/ video games/ t.v./ music are off and we can sit down to actually talk to each other.

  55. Carey on August 29th, 2011

    Family dinners are important in our house. Without them we may never see each other. I have a 14 y/o, 9y/o. and a 4y/o and that keeps us busy but can also make finding something fun to do for everyone a challenge. One of our favorite things to do at dinner is to play “The Happy Family” game. It is a book filled with questions. Each person takes a turn ramdomly picking a question to answer. We have had some great conversations because of this book, and I have learned things about my kids that I never knew.

  56. Lori S. on August 29th, 2011

    Family dinners are important, especially at this time of year. I feel like most of our evenings are filled with getting ready for school or work the next day. It’s important to be able to sit down together at dinner just to relax and connect with each other.

  57. Nikole Holt on August 29th, 2011

    Dinner is important to me to make sure the kids keep talking to us and each other

  58. Nikole Holt on August 29th, 2011

    I subscribe to your email

  59. Kelly on August 29th, 2011

    We would like to eat more family dinners together, and these games seem like a really neat way of increasing mealtime conversation!

  60. tamar on August 29th, 2011

    My young daughters love to help me cook, and that definitely helps them want to eat the food with the family. I love your website!

  61. tamar on August 29th, 2011

    I subscribe!

  62. Melissa Demers on August 30th, 2011

    Family diners are important to me because I work at night and mostly out of the home. It’s rare I get to sit with my family and share a meal. When I do, it’s a special occasion and just great to decompress and hear how they’re doing. =)

  63. BRooke on August 30th, 2011

    we love dinner games! It slows everyone down so we don’t rush through the meal!

  64. BRooke on August 30th, 2011

    shared the contest on my FB page!

  65. Stephanie Kelly on August 30th, 2011

    Family dinner are important in our house to gather at the end of the day and be together! I grew up with family dinner every night and I can’t imagine raising a family any other way!

  66. Christina Griffin on August 30th, 2011

    Family dinners are important for us because that is reconnect and catch up from our busy days. With 2 teens and a older elementary child we have hectic schedules. Even with my husband working swing we still all sit at the table.

  67. Meredith Rosser on August 30th, 2011

    Family dinner time for us is utmost important as we feel it’s our time to connect with the boys & share about each others day without interruptions. A tradition that we feel brings us closer together.

  68. JAmie S on August 30th, 2011

    I think family dinners are very important. My kids are 6,3,4 so now our dinner time is just a fun talk. I like the place mats idea. We did make our own place mats for christmas. I think this week we will be making new ones for fall. awesome giveaway THANKS

  69. JAmie S on August 30th, 2011

    Facebook Fan!

  70. Stacy on August 30th, 2011

    Facebook fan

  71. Stacy on August 30th, 2011

    With all the hussle of the day, family dinners are the best way to catch everyone up without rushing and enjoy eachother.

  72. Michelle Ravenstone on August 30th, 2011

    I love family dinners because it provides the opportunity to reconnect with the kids and share in one of my favorite things….FOOD!

  73. Michelle Ravenstone on August 30th, 2011

    I like you on facebook :)

  74. Chrisse on September 1st, 2011

    Its a great way to reconnect and gain some insight into our kids’ day.

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