A few weeks ago I asked Cameron what would make dinner more fun.  He said “decorations,” which I finally figured out meant strings of lights and Christmas ornaments pasted all over the table–indeed a fun idea for July. I’m not going  to go this far, but I do believe I need to work on ways to make dinner more fun or special.  To understand why, you first need a taste of my family’s typical meal conversation.

Dinner Converstaion #1:

You need to get me some milk!

Cameron: MILK!!! (Followed by crying)

Aidan: PINEAPPLE!!! (Followed by crying)

Me: Please ask mommy in a nice way.

Cameron: Milk, please, mommy. (still whining . . .)

Aidan: Pineapple, please, mommy. (still crying . . .)

Me: That’s much better.  Here’s your milk.  Thank you, Mommy.

Cameron: Thank you, Mommy.  (Smiles, then eats last bite of pineapple.)  PINEAPPLE! (starts wailing)

Aidan: PINEAPPLE.  YOU SAID ME NEXT!  (followed by hysterical crying)

Repeat above until Cameron and Aidan are almost full, and Mommy is so frazzled she wants to pull out her hair.

Dinner Conversation #2:

Me (trying to start a civil dinner conversation): What did you like at school today, Aidan?

Aidan: Cameron said “Butt”

Cameron:  (Attempts to make a rude noise with his mouth against his hand.)  TOOT!

Aidan:  TOOT!  (tries to mimic Cameron’s gesture).

Me: We don’t talk that way at the table.

Aidan: (defiantly) But we do. TOOT!

Cameron: TOOT!

Both boys laugh so hard they fall out of their chairs . . .

Believe me, we do have some civilized and interesting dinner conversations at our house, but conversations #1 and #2 make appallingly regular appearances.  The only thing that changes is the bodily function under discussion or the food being demanded.  I eventually resort to punitive measures if this gets out of control, but I’d much rather lead the boys back to more appropriate conversation in a gentle way.  Better yet, I’d like to keep the conversation from deteriorating in the first place.

What I’ve realized lately is that I can do a lot to set a better tone for good, wholesome fun at my table.  My problem is that I put so much energy into fixing meals that I’m often exhausted by the time I finally get to sit down and eat.  I sit and stare at my food, while robotically getting whatever the boys need.  No wonder our dinner conversations have been so horrible.  On top of this, the boys almost inevitably come to the table before I’m ready for them.  They start demanding this and that and falling apart, and before long half the meal is over before I’ve even had a chance to sit down.  I can’t tell you how much I hate this.

So here is my plan to change things.  First, if I’m not ready for them yet, I tell the boys that dinner is not ready and I pop in one of our extra short (10-15 minute) videos for them to watch.  I’m not entirely happy with this solution, but it keeps them occupied long enough for me to get dinner completely on the table before they sit down.  Then I can sit down with them and pass things and anticipate their needs, keeping the entire dining experience a lot more pleasant for everyone.

A much more pleasant dinner!

Second, I believe I need to put as much effort into having a pleasant dinner as having a good, healthy dinner, so I’ve been doing a little research and brainstorming ideas to make dinner festive or special.  Here are some ideas I have already tried or plan to try soon:

1.)  Lighting candles

2.) Using centerpieces such as “found baskets,” “memory baskets,” flowers or veges from the garden, or things the boys have made.

3.) Using decorations (sparingly- I don’t want to spend too much time with this but the boys might get a kick out of making place mats or using fun napkins.)

4.) Playing soft music.

5.) Talking or singing about the culture that inspired our meal (Mexican burritos, Italian spaghetti etc.)

The verdict so far?  Success!  Yesterday, they watched Green Eggs and Ham while I finished getting dinner completely ready.  We washed our hands.  Then we lit a candle and ate dinner by candle light after saying our thank yous.  The boys thought this was really cool and spent the entire meal talking about why we lit a candle and other fire-related themes such as roasting marshmallows over the campfire, birthday candles and fire trucks.  Not the stimulating adult dinner conversation I long for, but not bad.  And the boys want to light candles again tonight.

I imagine this won’t work every time, but I am going to keep up my efforts and I’ll keep you posted.

Do you have any ideas for making dinner more fun or festive?  Please share!

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