Family Dinnertime: Changing Quantity Time into Quality Time
We’ve all heard how regular dinners together are vital for a healthy family, but the reality is that most Americans struggle to carve out the time to sit down at the table with the people they love. That is, at least, until a global health crisis shuts down everything from school to March Madness to soccer practice… suddenly, most of us are finding we don’t have so many places to be at 6 pm each night….
But just because we are all eating in the same place doesn’t mean that dinnertime will automatically be a memory-making, bond-forming, life-giving experience. Relationships need both quantity of time and quality time - now that you’ve been gifted the first, how do you achieve the second? As much as you may want to connect deeply with the people you love most, it won’t happen without some work and creativity. Thankfully, none of us is in this alone. God has given us each other - we can glean ideas from the families around us, jumpstarting our creativity for our own family situations, and hopefully motivating us to do the work needed.
We here at Grace City want to be a part of inspiring you to go and be awesome with your family. Since we can’t actually have you into our homes for a meal right now, we’ve put together a list of some of the ways we make the most of our family dinners. Most of these are borrowed from other families who discipled us along the way - we’ve seen ideas we loved and made them our own, and now we’re glad to pass them on. We hope they inspire a whole new circle of families to take advantage of this unique time to laugh, talk and connect together better than ever.
We use the “what’s your high, what’s your low” questions often. Another variation of that is “what are you most thankful for today?” or “what do you appreciate about the people at this table, and what are specific recent examples?” My kids also still love breaking out the box of conversation starter cards (see one example here).
We also do family devotions, right after dinner, where someone reads a portion of scripture, we talk about the words or phrases that stood out to us and what the big idea(s) were in the passage and how it could affect our lives as a family, at school, etc... then say a prayer & start to clean up.
Plan and have an "all one color" meal. For example, an "orange" meal where you have cheetos, orange pop, carrots, squash, orange jello, cheese, etc. or "green" where it’s broccoli, salad stuff, green eggs, apples, etc. Of course, you all have to dress up in that color, too. Sometimes, kids REALLY get into it, like coloring their nails, and at dinner you keep track of how many sentences you can say that have "green" words in them, and still make sense. It’s so ridiculous that it's actually fun.
Kent and Patty McMullen
A McMullen original is a "vanilla pudding sculpture contest". Patty would make a batch of vanilla pudding for dessert and serve it to each family member in a parfait dish and everyone would think of something they could sculpture out of the pudding. She then would judge each pudding sculpture and give the winner a handful of chocolate chips to add to the winners pudding sculptures. Of course, she would eventually give chocolate chips to everyone :) This always brought out some good family competition and of course a ton of laughs.
Patty’s dad introduced our family to “The Numbers Game”, which is played with an extra cookie or dessert. He would have Patty's mom (the kids’ grandma) whisper a number from 1-10 to grandpa and then he would have all the kids and family members around the table guess a number. Once everyone had made their guess he would take the last cookie or dessert and go around the table and tease the kids by acting like he was going to stuff the cookie or dessert in their mouths. He would go around the table multiple times and then as he got to the winner he would say loudly, "we have a winner", and then stuff the dessert into their mouths. The "numbers Game" was always good for a lot of fun, laughter and suspense.
Twenty Questions! The overall idea is for one person at the table to think of a historical or biblical event or person, and then everyone else starts asking yes or no questions (20 total) to see if they can figure it out. What we have loved so much about this is that it has been a great way for us, as parents, to engage with the kids and what they are learning in school. So much of the time this has turned into Daddy giving history lessons, telling a Bible story, or telling us more about a person than we previously knew. Or none of us know that much about it, so we watch a documentary or read a story about it as a family. Our kids love trying to stump the parents, and now as the kids are older it is a lot of fun seeing if we can stump them. Last week I picked Michael Jordan, who the kids knew little about, which led to us watching a documentary on the dream team, and now we're so excited for the upcoming ESPN documentary on Michael Jordan that starts in a few weeks.
We’ve been playing a game called “food charades”...one person has to form themselves into the shape of a particular food while everyone has to guess what food they are.
Kyle and Laura Strong
The Strong family always does “the seat of privilege” at the dinner table. The seat rotates every evening with a different child sitting next to Dad. That child leads the prayer before the meal and then chooses the dinner time conversation topic or game. They normally do one of the following:
- Animal game - like 20 questions, but with an animal.
- This Or That, also called Would You Rather? - we rotate around the table and everyone gets a turn to ask a question.
- Highs and lows
- Build-ups - praise the person on your left and the person on your right by telling them what you love and appreciate about them.
- ... and sometimes they just choose regular conversation.
For a time when I was in middle school, my parents kept a stack of index cards at the table labeled with various school/trivia subjects (science, history, sports, etc). At dinner, my dad would pick a card for each kid and pose them a question from that subject. That may sound super nerdy, but it was really fun to test ourselves against him, and it would get us talking about all sorts of random but interesting things. Plus, sometimes we’d switch things up and get to ask him questions - stumping Dad equaled major bragging rights!
With our family now, we do highs and lows pretty much every night, but often use the variations “what was one evidence of grace from today (i.e. where was God was good to you)?” or “what was your victory from today?”
Josh and Sharon McPherson
We’ve done a “code name” menu where there are code names for each item for dinner (main, side, fork, spoon, napkin, bread, dessert, etc...) then people have to order off the coded menu and they get what they get! Ha! Which means some folks might get dessert served first but with only a napkin! It can be pretty funny!