These printable conversation starters for families are a perfectly simple–yet effective–way for families to make-over dinnertime and build stronger relationships. Dinnertime at our house is not always pleasant. I wish I could say that every night we all sit down together and enjoy a healthy, home-cooked meal while chatting happily about our days and the mysteries of the universe…or something like that.
The dinner dilemma
In reality, dinnertime often involves the kids complaining about the “green stuff” I cruelly placed in the healthy, home-cooked meal, and there is a lot of poking each other with forks and who knows what else. Lots of distractions during the meal lead to comments like…
“Use your fork, please. Soup is not a finger food.”
“Let’s wait until after dinner to have Alexa sing Jingle Bells.”
“For goodness sake, sit down and eat!”
Why dinnertime matters
Lately, I’ve been searching for a way to change our not-so-ideal dinnertime tradition. I hate having dinner feel like a cross between a circus and a boxing match. I want dinner to be a time that bonds our family together, not a time that makes us all want to run away from the table as quickly as possible. Our days are so busy; I feel strongly that we need to carve out and protect this small sliver of time each day to be together.
There are endless studies that support the idea that family dinnertime is important. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University says that children who regularly eat dinner with their parents are less likely to become involved in risky behaviors (drugs, alcohol, etc.) and more likely to have good grades and better overall health. In the crazy–sometimes scary–world in which we live, I want to use dinnertime as a way to protect and prepare my children for the world they will face outside our home.
But how can dinnertime with fidgety, picky young kids be made into a positive experience?
The simple dinnertime activity that worked wonders
A few weeks ago, I tried something new that worked wonders for our dinnertime experience. My husband was working late, so I was holding down the fort on my own. I was mostly just trying to survive until bedtime…you know those days. As we sat down to dinner, however, I had a thought. Earlier in the day I had read an article about a mom who had interviewed her children and recorded their funny answers to a set of questions. One of them popped in my head and I thought, dinnertime is the perfect time to try this out.
Once I got everyone dished up, I told my boys that I was going to interview them during dinner. They seemed intrigued by the idea, so I continued.
I asked, “If you could open a restaurant, what kind of food would you cook and serve?”
My five-year-old responded that he would have a restaurant that would serve real food to good guys, but the food would be poisonous for bad guys. A little macabre, perhaps, but creative.
My three-year-old said he would want to run a Cafe Rio (a Mexican chain restaurant in our area). He wanted to make quesadillas for everyone.
We talked more about their restaurants, and they even asked me what kind of restaurant I would choose (a little cafe with delicious soups, sandwiches and a killer baked goods case…just in case you’re wondering). We were laughing, sharing ideas, and ACTUALLY BONDING. Bonus: in the midst of all of this, they even ate their dinner!
Now, I know I’m not the first person to suggest the idea of conversation starters for families at the dinner table. However, I hadn’t ever used them with my own kids. I always figured they were too young. But they loved it!
I was so encouraged by the result of my little experiment that I have started asking interview questions most nights. Now I’m looking forward to dinnertime rather than dreading all the complaints. Not that the complaints about my choice of “green stuff” have ended completely (that’s probably too much to hope for), but our dinners have certainly become more enjoyable for everyone.
Now my boys even anticipate the activity and excitedly ask, “What’s our question of the day?”
Do you want to make over your own dinnertime?
I’ve compiled a list of our favorite conversation starters and created free printable cards for you to use! They are geared especially for young kids because many of the ones I found online were better suited to older children and adults. I wanted to create something especially for families with toddlers and young kids, so a lot of the questions play to young kids’ strength: imagination.
Simply click below to download, print, and cut apart a set of 48 conversation starters for young families. These are the very questions I’ve been asking my kids over the past several weeks, along with a bunch I’m planning to ask them in the future.
How do you make dinnertime meaningful for YOUR family?