Dinnertime. It's tough! It's the end of the day. Everyone's tired of each other. Everyone has made it through an episode of Mr. Rogers 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 until, well, you know). 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 dinners tip #1: big pieces
First things let's talk tables. Most of the time I advocate for investing in furniture that will grow with your family for years to come. Tables? They aren't one of these times. Until the kids are older (maaayybe teenagers?) accept the fact that there will be spills. Lots of them. And you don't want your blood pressure to rise every time moisture gets near great-aunt Sally's heirloom table, do you? Not good for you, not good for spill-ee.
So get a good, sturdy dining room table that can take a bit of a beating. One that you won't mind saying "adieu" to in a few years. Me? I've got an IKEA one. It looks pretty stylish! Light blonde table top, clean, white legs and fork holes all. over. it.
To go with your family-friendly table, grab some super easy chairs. I'm advocating for no cushions here. There are chairs that are comfy and wipe-down-able. Because really? Who needs more laundry? Remind me that I said this later.
For us, this means reproduction Eiffel tower chairs. Super sleek, classic and stylish. UBER wipeable. Seriously, squirt some cleaner on there and wipe with a towel. Heck, make that the kiddos' chore at some point!
The last biggie piece to consider is the flooring. If you've got carpet in your dining room, get an area rug. You know what? Even if you have hard flooring get an area rug. One, it helps define the eating area visually. And two, it protects what's beneath it from said spills and abuse.
Now the rug in your dining space is not 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, I don't advise doing that with sisal).
Family dinners tip #2: serving
Now, table, chairs and rugs, those are pretty common things to consider. I'm not suggesting a radical reinvention of the wheel with those suggestions. But here is where you can make the biggest impact on your dining experience. Believe it or not, it has to do with how you serve dinner.
To sum up what will come after this: you should all be eating off the same serveware. Appropriately scaled serveware, but the same, nonetheless. Here are a couple of reasons behind this.
First, visually it's way nicer to be uniform. And, unless you want the whole family to eat off of Barney plates, go with what you're eating off. It's easy! 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.
Second, it is 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. Probably our biggest job 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?
Great! Now apply that approach to other things serving. Small pitchers, knives, forks, spoons.....all come in kiddo-sized. And, if you go classic and simple (like, say, IKEA) everything will visually go together beautifully. I would suggest, as they are learning, as mentioned above, that you use a set of dishes, etc. that you are not terribly attached to. There is a time for an heirloom tea set, and this ain't it.
Family dinners tip #3: ambiance
Now that we've got the table set for success on good solid furniture, let's talk the smaller details. The finishing touches.
The biggest piece I want to talk about here is the lighting. No way, Jose, with the 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.
Last, but not least, let's get some conversation going. Some good times shared. At my house, we've started a mini-tradition of each member, in turn, sharing what their favorite part of the day was, if anything bothered them about the day and what made them laugh. With young boys, we get plenty of potty humor around this; but honestly? Their laughing pretty much makes my day.
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 by Jennifer Morehead via Minted for West Elm and Roar + Rabbit . I do as I say!