Is the 5 o’clock hour the hour of dread at your house? It’s so easy to get whipped about your day, only to arrive in the kitchen, staring into a fridge full of far-too-familiar everythings, and call cooking off for the night. After all, why would a mom want to slave away at work all day, only to slave away over the stove, only to arrive at a dinner table full of finicky, whiny eaters? It seems this scenario plays out at my house far too often. There’s one kid who won’t even touch a tomato, another who insists on slathering my perfectly seared strip steaks with ketchup. Most nights, I’m left wishing we were just ordering off menus while the kids color paper tablecloths and mommy throws a glass of wine down her throat.
But, staying in and eating as a family can be rewarding! Sometimes it just requires a spark to kick you out of the boring, uninspired routine, turning mealtime into a treat, a surprise, and something everyone looks forward to.
One night, I remember my mom sitting us down to the table for dinner. But dinner wasn’t on the table. “Alright, everyone is sitting under the table!” she declared. Confused, we moved our plates underneath the tabletop and ate picnic style on the floor. The oddity of it all made it deliciously fun. The whole family, cramped under the table like forlorn campers, slurping spaghetti from bowls, intimately sharing a closed space … I remember wanting to linger there as we all laughed and told stories and made up a few funny new jokes. In my mom’s moment 0f what was probably Mommy Madness, she ended up inspired.
If you’re looking for a way to shake up your same-old routine, infuse your mealtimes with a bit of fun, and take a fresh, new approach to family dinner time, here are 15 fabulous ways to turn the evening meal into an evening adventure!
As always, a little bit of planning goes a long way, but some of these ideas lend themselves to spontaneity. Just read through, find a favorite, and start making dinner fun tonight!
1) Nacho Night
Bake up some cheesey, bean-covered tortilla chips and offer up a fixings bar at the table. Put out little bowls of chopped olives, green onions, cilantro, salsa (both green and red), chopped tomatoes, fire-roasted green chiles, guacamole, and sour cream.
Everyone has a fondue pot stuffed in the back of their cabinet — break it out for a totally different food experience! Go savory with mini meatballs, bread cubes, smoked sausage, broccoli florets, cherry tomatoes, cubed ham, cauliflower, baby carrots, potato wedges, and cooked ravioli. For a decadent dessert, melted chocolate tastes amazing with marshmallows, cubed pound cake, strawberries, grapes, pretzel sticks, mini cupcakes, sliced bananas, apple wedges, Rice Krispie treats, brownie cubes, cookies, or cubed pineapple.
3) Breakfast for dinner
Something about eating pancakes and bacon for dinner makes the occasion seem extra fun. It’s exciting to mix things up once in a while, and breakfast options for dinner are endless. Beyond pancakes, try loaded omelets, breakfast casseroles, homemade egg muffin sandwiches, frittatas, home fries and scrambled eggs, huevos rancheros, and French toast.
4) Buffet style
Set up a small buffet table next to your dinner table and arrange food items for everyone to self-serve. Try different themed menus such as barbecue night (shredded pork, potato salad, baked beans, rolls, salad), Italian night (meatballs, spaghetti, garlic bread, salad), or Chinese night (pork, lo mein noodles, stir-fried veggies, fried rice).
5) Let the kids cook
Okay, so maybe you won’t be having a gourmet feast, but letting the kids cook will get them super excited about their dinner! Try something easy like deli meat wraps, noodles and cheese, or tacos.
6) Play the question game
Try a family question night and have each family member pull a question from a jar. Get free family dinner question printables from HOW DOES SHE?
7) Listen to music
Cue up the music as you start serving dinner, or let one family member play DJ for a night. Play relaxing classical music and have everyone name the different musical instruments that are playing.
8) Picnic style
Lay out a picnic blanket on the living room floor and have an indoor picnic! Make stacked sandwiches, arrange veggies and dip, buy individual packs of chips, and make some scrumptious cookies for a night your kids will treasure!
9) Ethiopian night
Have you ever had Ethiopian food? There are no utensils — just mop up the food with spongy flatbread — your kids will love this idea! Try the recipes at THE TODDLER CAFE, or just look for pre-made Indian flatbread in the bakery section to make it easier.
10) Skewer night
Serve all your food on skewers — nothing’s more fun than food on a stick! Start with fresh fruit (strawberries, pineapple, kiwi, raspberries), then serve meat with cubed bread, and skewers of grilled veggies. Of course dessert on a stick will have everyone cheering!
11) Dinner around the world
Let your kids pick a spot on the globe and Google some recipes from that region. You can even have them do some research and talk about different parts of the world and how people live differently.
12) At-home restaurant
Have your kids make up menus, set the table, and serve your food for an evening. You can even discuss manners and give them a tip!
Tapas are Spanish snacks or appetizers. Try serving a variety of different tapas- Spanish omelet, tuna empanadas, garlic shrimp, grilled bread with garlic, spinach feta triangles, and mini cream puffs.
14) Pizza decorating contest
See who can come up with the most decorative design for their pizza. Make mini pizzas and let the kids decorate with peppers, olives, mushrooms, pepperoni, and anything else you can think of before baking. Have different awards (most creative, looks most like Uncle Mike, most likely to fly away, best use of ingredients, etc.) so no one feels left out!
15) Dessert before dinner
Use this idea for super special occasions — your kids will flip! Just make sure you don’t let them pig out too much before eating some healthy dinner — make a deal that they eat half, and the rest gets saved for a post-dinner noshing!
Have another great way to turn dinner from drab to fab? We’d love to hear! Sound off in the comments section below! We’d love to start keeping a list of reader’s favorite ideas!