Happy Family Dinner Tips Your Mother Never Told You

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Family dinner time. It's tough! It's the end of the day. Everyone's tired of each other. You made it through an episode of Mr. Rogers (mostly) intact and now it's the last hurdle: eating together.

Chances are dinner will EITHER be a hit with the small people or the big people. And, granted, the big people usually are more gracious about this situation, but one can only eat so many chicken nuggets (free-range, organic, happy little chickens of course). What you have is the recipe for some less than enjoyable family time. And who wants that?

So the fussiness? Eh, some days are better than others. And food? I am NOT by any means a food blogger, so not much help there either. But setting the table (pardon the pun) for a family dinner for all to enjoy? That, I've got tips on.

Family Dinner Secret for Success: Tables

  • Most of the time I advocate for investing in furniture that will grow with your family for years to come

    • Tables aren't one of these times

  • Until the kids are older (maaayybe teenagers?) accept the fact that there will be spills. Lots of them.

  • Get a sturdy dining room table that can take a bit of a beating that you won't mind saying "adieu" to in a few years.

I've got an IKEA one that I love. Light blonde table top, clean, white legs and fork holes all. over. it.

Family Dinner Secret for Success: Dining Chairs

To go with your family-friendly table, grab some super easy chairs.

  • I'm advocating for no cushions here or if you do, removeable and washable.

  • There are totally chairs that are comfy and wipe-down-able. Less. Laundry.

For us, this means reproduction Eiffel tower chairs. Super sleek and stylish. UBER easy to clean. Seriously, squirt some cleaner on there and wipe with a towel. Heck, make that the kiddos' chore at some point!

Family Dinner Secret for Success: Flooring

  • Carpet OR hardwoods: get. an. area rug.

    • It defines the eating area visually

    • It protects what's beneath it from said spills and abuse.

  • The rug in your dining space won't be one that you'll necessarily want to dig your toes into

    • I'm all about comfort, but you want short, dense pile so that crumbs and what have you don't nestle down deep

  • Choose one that's hard-wearing and easily cleanable

    • Favorites for this include sisal (which I've got, and looks pretty great with my blonde table)

    • Or try out the indoor/outdoor carpets available.

      • I'm all about taking something out, hosing it off and bringing it back in

      • The indoor/outdoor not sisal

Family Dinner Secret for Success: Serving

You should all be eating off the same serveware. Appropriately scaled serveware, but the same, nonetheless. Here are a couple of reasons behind this.

  • Visually it's way nicer to be uniform.

    • If you've got a dinner plate, they can use the salad plate

    • If you've got a glass of milk, they've got a smaller one

    • Bonus tip: we save the jars from Bonne Maman jams and use them as glasses for the kids. Plenty sturdy, but similar in look to what we've got.

  • It's just way easier to have all the same dishes.

    • No more arguing over which kiddo gets the Gruffalo plate with the small chip or, "But, Mawwwwm, I neeeeed the pink bowl!" angst.

    • They're all the same. Easy peasy.

  • Lastly, and I'm going to go a bit Montessori here, they don't need to be talked down to

    • They're growing little people. And they're learning

    • One of our biggest jobs as a caregiver is to help them navigate new things and become successful

    • Will there be fewer spills if they use a sippy cup forever? Yup

      • But is that really what you want them to be using when they go to visit a friend's house? Or would you rather that they are adaptable to what's available?

  • Now apply that approach to other things serving.

    • Small pitchers, knives, forks, spoons.....all come in kiddo-sized

    • If you go classic (like, say, IKEA) everything will visually go together beautifully.

As they're learning use a set of dishes, etc. that you aren't attached to. There is a time for an heirloom tea set, and this ain't it.

Now that we've got the table set for success on good solid furniture, let's talk the smaller details. The finishing touches

Family Dinner Secret for Success: Lighting

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  • Don't even think about using harsh overhead lighting; put that baby on a dimmer or use supplemental lighting (i.e. floor lamps, sconces, etc.).

  • This is not a surgical theater; it should feel warm and cozy. Lighting plays a big factor in that.

Family Dinner Secret for Success: Conversation

I know, I know at times getting kids talking can be like pulling teeth. So you have to get creative

  • Skip the unexpected. No "how was your day at school?"

    • Try something like, "What made you laugh today?"

    • There are some great conversation card games you can buy so that you're not coming up with topics off the top of your (tired) head

  • Sometimes getting the kids to talk (when you've already tried) just isn't happening.

    • Start talking with another adult or even talking to yourself/them

      • "Laura said the funniest think that I spit milk from my nose,"

    • Feel free to embellish as needed. Just get their attention

    • They'll perk up and join in. Maybe.

In the end, we all know how important family dinners are. They're perhaps the one time each day everyone is together at the same time. Making that tradition central to your family when the kiddos are little will resonate with them all the way through adulthood. It certainly did for me.

Here's a peek at my very own dining room (or approximately). IKEA through and through with some World Market sprinkled in. Artwork: "Marine" by Jennifer Morehead and Roar + Rabbit . I do as I say!

Click on design to see more of my work!

Click on design to see more of my work!