Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Family Dinners

So. We're still without a functional camera. (*snarl) 
But, as with so many things we can't do anything about, it looks like I'm just going to have to suck it up and make the most of what I have at hand.

And I've been intending to do this post for a while anyway.

Today's topic: Family Dinners.

which, at our house are actually something more like this:

As you may have gathered from reading one or two posts, we have quite a large family. Large and kind of insanely busy. But we do the very best we can to make dinner time a family event. I sometimes wonder if it's really all that important (especially when they race through their food and ask to be excused about 14 seconds after I'm finally able to sit down...), but time and time again, I've heard from them that dinner time is the best part of their day. And so... I keep it up. Even on those days when all I have time to do is re-heat some leftovers and slap a jug of milk on the table. 

Here are some of the tricks I've crammed up my sleeve to make it both manageable and fun:

## 1. Thoughtful Preparation. 
This does not by any means imply that every meal has to be a Thanksgiving kind of spread, complete with soup course and cut-glass bowls of olives. However, I have learned that a small amount of preparation goes a LONG way. I have made a habit (by sheer force of necessity) of planning out menus a week in advance. I write down the weekly meals on a cute little chalkboard thingy we have hanging in the kitchen, and keep to it... loosely. Switching tuesdays meal to saturday if it's a better fit, or if I'm simply NOT in the mood to roast a duck. (<--- something I have yet to try)

(this one is much cuter and fancier than ours) Mostly, it's for my benefit, to remind me WHY in the great big world I bought three packages of frozen spinach, and not one can of tomato sauce. 
Along with the menu preparation, I also have the kids help set the table, and if time allows, create some kind of fun centerpiece. It's hilarious sometimes, the things with which they choose to 'decorate' our table.

## 2. I usually have some topics of conversation picked out.
We run the orbit of the table first, always, to find out everyone's 'high point' of the day (I honestly never cease to be shocked at how often the kids say that 'right now' is the brightest part of their day), but I've found that, sometimes after that, if there isn't some kind of stimulating conversation to ground us all, things can easily crumble into 

'stop kicking me!' 
'I'm not!'
'yes you are, I can FEEL IT!'
... and etc. ad infinitum. 

so. to avoid such algonquin round-table fare, I usually have some kind of conversation game ready at hand. Sometimes we play round-robin story, where one person starts telling a tale, and then breaks off in the middle and the next person takes up the thread. Or any of those alphabet games that start, 'i'm going on a camping trip and i'm taking with me...' 
Lately, though, we've been on a pirate joke kick. This game started with the eye-rollingly pun-ful joke, 'Did you hear about the new pirate movie?... it's rated Arrrr.' (admit it, you just giggled a little.. and THEN rolled your eyes) But this game is super easy for little kids. They just think of any word that contains the phoneme 'ar' in it, and build their own joke around it. 
some good ones from our family this past week have been: 
'what is a pirate's favorite body part? ... his ARRRm'
and, from the slightly older kids: 'what is a pirate's favorite civil war cemetary? ... ARRlington.' 
It's good silly fun, and at least a few rungs above the endless bickering. 
There are tons of products out there that you can buy - like this table topics game - or make - here are some great ideas from rex and regina - to liven up (or maybe just focus) your dinnertime discussions. 

##3. Manners.
I am attempting to instill some primitive kind of politeness in my children. Using silverware, sitting rather than standing at the table, once in a while employing a napkin... to this end, we do a few different things to encourage rudimentary manners. First, those who have managed to get through dinner with a modicum of decency will receive a manners marble (which I talked about a little bit HERE). 

Sometimes, though the thought of a little blue marble just isn't enough to motivate. These are the days we pull out the pennies. I give each person at the table 5 pennies at the beginning of dinner. When they catch someone talking with their mouth full or eating with their fingers, the offender has to pony up one of his or her pennies, giving it to the one who caught them. At the end of dinner, they get to keep however many pennies they have remaining. 

## 4. And lastly, sometimes you gotta break the rules.
Dinner can't always be a thing of white napkins and polite observations about the weather (or pirates...) 
So every once in a while I'll mix it up, and throw everyone a crazy kind of curveball. Like the other day when we played this great little camp game. 
We have 7 people around our table, so I chose seven kitchen utensils - I mean the weird ones, no 'big spoon' business. We had the beaters from the mixer, a whisk, a garlic press, and a lemon squeezer among others. 
I laid out each utensil in the center of the table and had a set of dice ready to go. Each kid got a roll, and whatever number he landed on, that was the utensil he had to use to eat his dinner. (i got the leftover. It was a pair of BBQ tongs.)
It was a mess, and a hoot, and nobody's manners were going to win any awards, but it was a fun, memorable night. And sometimes, I think that's even more important. 

What about you? How do you survive dinnertime?
Whatever your solution, make family time something special tonight.

Violas and Veggies,


Michelle said...

the last one is my fave. what are you having for dinner when you do this?

quiverfull said...

thanks! it's always a hoot when we do this.
i think the last time we did it, we were having chinese. :)

Crystal - crafty ave said...

Ooooohh, I like the last one and the one about asking the kids their high point of the day. We used to do that when I lived with housemates in University talking about our best and worst things of the day.
I lost your blog there for awhile, I thought it was on my google reader and wondered why I hadn't seen any recent posts. I've got it sorted out now :)