5 Ways To Make Dinnertime More Fun

Dr. Delaney Ruston – There is an ingrained long-standing belief that dinner mainly needs to be about checking in with everyone about their day, and then, from there, people can bring up other topics. There is also a myth that this should be satisfying enough for everyone at the table.

The truth is some kids and teens get a bit frustrated or bored by dinnertime. I was speaking at length about this with a youth clinical psychologist the other day. She mentioned that young people give her various reasons why this is the case, such as some of them feeling like they are being interviewed during dinner, or worse, interrogated. 

I’ve spoken with other psychologists about this same topic. While we know that time spent as a family being light-hearted is key for closeness, many families go several weeks without much play or laughter. Scientifically we know that oxytocin, a chemical that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, is released during times of enjoyment with others, and helps strengthen feelings of belonging and love. 

Whether you have younger children or older teens, today, I propose ways to add some spice to your regular dinner routine. Even if everything is going fine and dandy, why not mix it up? I have included ones that my family has loved over the years.

Consider using “competition” and “reward” for your advantage — these can boost the excitement of the activities I write about today.

5 Ways To Make Dinnertime More Fun

1.“Guess My Tech” Have each person write on a piece of paper four things they enjoy doing that are internet-based and have them rank them the four —  1 is for liking the best, 2 is the second-best, etc. 

For example, someone might write, watch videos of skateboarders, play Roblox, talk on a chat group with friends, and watch Ted Lasso. Everyone does this. Then a person reads their four things, and the others write down their guess of how the reader ranked the four things they wrote. 

Do this for everyone. See if anyone guesses the most correctly and if so, perhaps they get a prize like choosing a dessert. 

What I love about this game is that if you do it as part of your Screenagers Tech Talk Tuesday night, it reinforces one of the major strategies for successful Tech Talks, which is to start them with everyone saying something positive about tech — this helps dampen any defensiveness kids may have. (of course, your Tech Talks don’t actually have to be done on Tuesdays.)

2.“The Olden Days, True or False?” is another game I invented and is based on years of experiencing the bonding that happens when we, parents, take the time to talk about what we were like and what we used to do when we were younger. ( Ok, I know “The Olden Days” aren’t so old, but given the fact that some kids don’t even know what a dial-up phone is, that sure makes me feel old.) 

This is how you play this game: 

I might say, “True or False… when I was 12, I took two buses to get to school?” Then my two kids would guess the answer. (By the way, the answer was false. I actually took one public bus, then transferred onto BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), and then after that transferred to another bus to get to and return home from my public junior high school each day.) 

My husband, Peter might ask, 

“True or False: When I was 16, I got to work as an intern on Capitol Hill?” The answer is false. He was actually 13. That would then start a little discussion about that time in his life.

3.“Photo Mind” is another game we’ve done during dinner and goes like this: I will say, “Ok,  everyone, close your eyes, and then I’ll ask a question like, “What is on the top of the two bookshelves in the living room?” 

Obviously, I have an unfair advantage, so I don’t answer the question in that round. Then someone might ask something else like, “Name 7 foods on the condiment shelf in the refrigerator.” We all write down our best guess, and then we go check. 

Of course, at the heart of this game is the idea of how often are we really attuned to what is in our physical spaces? How much do we pay attention to the present moments of our lives? 

4. “Cook Together Nights”

Ok, I admit, that’s not a very clever name, but the point is doing easy cooking together can be really gratifying. For many years our family has had Friday pizza nights, starting with store-bought refrigerated pizza dough, and everyone puts on their own toppings. As we each create our own “masterpiece,” we tend to laugh a lot. 

What I fancy about these nights is that it lengthens dinner time because we tend to all stay in the kitchen while the pizzas cook for about 12-minutes before sitting down to eat. 

In this same way, we make simple sushi and simple spring rolls. I try to keep seaweed, brown sushi rice, tofu, soy sauce, wasabi, and some veggies, like carrots and avocados, on hand for the sushi, and rice paper and hoisin sauce for the spring rolls. 

5.“Ditching the Dining Room Table”

Another idea is to surprise your kids by changing the location of dinner. For example, you might pull out a blanket and say, “Everyone, grab your plate. We’re headed to the living room to eat picnic-style.” 

My mother-in-law inspired this idea. She was an incredibly loving and creative woman who always did clever things with her kids and later in life with her grandkids. When her grandkids were toddlers, she was known for serving them pasta dinners in the bathtub! 

Ideas to get the conversation started:

  • If we like any of these games, might we want to try it around the Thanksgiving Table or another holiday meal?
  • Is there any type of food any of us have wanted to try making that we might try as a family?
  • Can you think up your own game? Old ones, like charades, can be fun and bring on the laughter too. (Be sure to share in the comments section if you do make up your own so others can try them out.) And, if someone refuses to participate, don’t let that stop you, because that person may absorb the fun by just watching.