Sharing quality time around the dinner table has shown positive effects on both personal development and mental health of children of all ages. Incorporating a routine family meal (we like dinner)  into your weekly schedule can not only help to bring you closer to your kids, it can make them feel more comfortable with sharing their lives with you, creating a strong family bond. Below we have some helpful tips on how to get your children engaged in both the preparation of the family meal, and when it’s time to sit down as a family to enjoy the meal you made together.

Research some recipes!

If you have some picky eaters, or diverse tastes, finding the right recipe can be a challenge. Gather everyone and make a list of food items each person doesn’t like, and ones they do like. Then once you have a good idea of everyone’s favorite foods, and foods to avoid altogether, scour sites like Pinterest, or meal prepping apps like Mealime, for healthy recipes. Be sure to find ones that incorporate plenty of whole foods packed with vitamin-rich nutrients, like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and grass-fed/pastured meats. Pick a few recipes that appeal to everyone, and narrow down your choices, and find one you want to start with. Save the remaining dishes for other family meals later in the week.

Once you have the recipe of choice, go through the ingredients, and inspect your own pantry first. Create a fun little game out of it for the kids, by making it a pantry scavenger hunt! Your children will be racing to the pantry to find all of the ingredients and spices you have on hand, keeping them engaged and excited in the process. Once the game is over, a winner has been declared, and the available ingredients have been sorted, make a grocery list compiled of the missing items for the recipe. Then it’s time to hit the store or farmers market!

To the store!

Use this shopping trip as an opportunity to teach your kids about different foods, healthy food insights, and good spending habits. Family meals have been linked to lower obesity levels in children, and better overall health, so teach your children about fresh organic produce and its multitude of benefits. Try to stray away from the process food isles, and commercially processed produce. Eating organic and non-GMO foods reduces the chances of ingesting harmful growth hormones, antibiotics, and they have fewer pesticides. For a more in-depth overview of the benefits of eating organically, check out this article for more helpful insights to share with your kids during your shopping trip!

Shopping at the farmers market for your family meal is also a great way to get fresh ingredients while supporting local farmers and businesses. Be sure to bring your reusable bags to cut down on plastic use, and allow your kids to roam the market and ask questions. When you have collected all of the necessary ingredients for your recipe, let them pick out one fresh produce item they are interested in trying, and head home to start cooking!

Time to get cooking!

Family meal time fun in our personalized aprons

When it’s time to hit the kitchen, put those aprons on (we love these ones and so will they) and teach your children about the important preparation steps, which include washing your hands and making sure the counter space is clean and disinfected. Once these steps are out of the way, organize your ingredients in order of when you’ll need to add them to the recipe. This makes it easy for younger children to get involved, and have the ingredients go in order of the recipe they are reciting. This helps to strengthen reading and cognitive skills, while teaching them how to cook. You might even find that they take an interest, and it becomes an educational new hobby you can do together!

Once the family meal is in the oven, assign your children tasks like cleaning up the meal prep area or washing the dishes and cooking supplies used for making the meal. You can also have them set the table, since small chores like these help teach responsibility. Make it more fun by allowing them to pick a different seat every night, which will make it more interactive since they can start a conversation with someone new every night. This can help to keep conversations fresh and exciting around the table.

Creating an inviting atmosphere in your dining space is also key to keeping your children engaged while promoting positive, energetic conversation. Red is a great accent color for a dining space, with its energetic attributes that also inspire joy, warmth, and increased appetite. Bring red hues into your dining space with table settings and other accent decor to make a warm and inviting dining space for your family dinners. If family meals are a new addition to your nightly routine, look into durable dining tables and furnishings for your space that will withstand wear and tear. These tables here are great options while still being comfortable and spacious enough for your growing family to gather around.

Dinner time!

After all the hard work of the day, it’s time to sit down and enjoy the family dinner meal you prepared together! Have the kids divide up their plates with healthy portions, and have a few conversation starters prepared. Ask them what their favorite part of the day was, and their top choice for the next family meal. Getting your kids to open up about their day has shown positive effects on school performance and grades, with children who eat five to seven meals a week with their families scoring B’s or higher on assignments. Being able to communicate openly as a family has also shown positive effects on their everyday choices, with them being less likely to try tobacco products or experiment with alcohol.

Be sure to allow your children to talk freely about their day or any problems they may be experiencing, and don’t be too quick to judge. After they have explained their feelings, calmly address any problems with understanding. This will keep them from being hesitant to open up, and makes family dinner time a positive atmosphere that they can use to express themselves. This will create a stronger bond, and keep them coming back to the table for future family dinners.