As a mom of 6 kids—all different ages—I’ve had my fair share of dinnertime battles. And with all the work that goes into the preparation of dinner, I’ll be darned if I have to lose at the *simple task* of getting them to the table. So I’ve come up with 26 ways to get kids excited about dinner time and have them clamoring for a seat at the table.
How do you get your kids excited about dinner time?
This task can sometimes feel like a rough-and-tumble disaster.
In fact, we used to struggle just to get our kids to the table. And then it felt like pulling teeth to keep them there and enjoy family dinner together!
Because kids are just like adults. If something isn’t fun or enjoyable, then we tend to drag our feet while doing it. But I REALLY wanted my kids to bond with me in the kitchen, and eating dinner together definitely falls into this category.
So over the last few years, it has been my mission to get my kids excited to come to dinner. And there are many, MANY ways to inspire this excitement.
Some of them might even surprise you!
Here are 26 sure-fire ways to get your kids excited about dinner time!
1. Get creative with utensils
Get your kids excited for dinner and take your family dinners to the next level by offering unique utensils to eat with.
Be as creative as you’d like! Whether you hunt for interesting new utensils or repurpose traditional utensils to use in a different way, let your “fun parent” flag fly and show your kids how cool you are.
Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- A straw—to drink the beverage OR the soup!
- Toothpicks—to stab soft fruits, veggies, or even meatballs
- Chopsticks—for salad and veggies
- The Chork—a fun take on a combination of chopsticks and forks
- Mini appetizer forks—to poke individual noodles and chicken pieces
- A spork—for rice or beans…or jello!
- Fingerspoons—I see endless dessert uses for this one
- Frito’s brand chip scoops—our family loves to use these to eat chunky soups. Try searching the grocery store for other edible utensils!
For more wacky utensil ideas, read this article from bonappetit.com.
2. Conversation starters in a jar
Having conversation starters at the table is a fun way to connect at dinnertime. They can add interest and amusement to conversations with teenagers, or help to corral bouncing toddlers at the table. These little prompts can inspire ideas for more family communication and heartfelt discussions and really get your kids excited about dinner time with the family.
Come up with 50 or so questions to ask your kids that will encourage ideas, comments, and conversation. Write the questions on a piece of paper and cut the paper into strips—one question on each. Then fold them up, and place them in a jar to keep near the dinner table.
Pull out the jar during dinnertime and watch your kids light up with excitement to have meaningful, interactive conversations with you.
3. Teach your kids how to cook
In reference to this blog, it’s likely no surprise this activity is on the list, but with so many amazing benefits, you just can’t go wrong!
Teaching your kids how to cook enhances family relationships, it gives kids confidence in themselves and their abilities, it encourages diversity in foods, and it sends the message that cooking is fun!
So letting your kids help prepare and serve dinner will motivate and encourage them to want to eat it!
If you’re unsure of how or where to get started, read all about the cooking skills your kids can learn at any age!
4. Play restaurant
This idea was offered to me by my dear friend, Donia, of Farm Plus Life, who loves to cook with her kids in the kitchen.
When they’re making dinner, her kids love to play restaurant. They take menu orders from the table, and when they’re finished cooking they serve it to their “customers.”
Let your kids be as creative as they want with this idea!
They can make a simple menu with paper and crayons, take orders with a pen and notepad, carry a cloth over their arm like the fancy waiters do, wear a chef’s hat and mustache while cooking,…the possibilities are endless!
5. Come-to-Dinner Charades
This idea is especially fun for little kids. Because sometimes it’s a struggle just to get your family to come to the table for dinner. So use this quick and simple way of announcing dinner time that will have even your smallest family members clamoring for a seat at the dinner table!
When you make the call for everyone to come to dinner, request that your kids imitate animals or vehicles to get to the table. Say something like, “Calling all kangaroos! How many kangaroos are coming to dinner tonight? Can you jump like a kangaroo to get to the table?”
The variations for this tactic are endless! But here are a few ideas to help you out:
- Jump like kangaroo
- Chug like a choo-choo train
- Gallop like a horse
- Fly like a superhero
- Slither like a snake.
- Vroom like a motorcycle
- Beep-bop like robot
- Charge like a rhinoceros
- Zoom like a spaceship
This activity will surely get your kids excited and offer a creative and fun vibe for dinner time.
6. Light some candles
Another fun way to get your kids excited about dinner time is to light some candles to ramp up the mood. One of my favorite bloggers, Stephanie Nielson, talks about how dinner time is a sacred time for her family. She loves to set a simple table and light candles to show her family the importance of this time.
Here’s a quote she shared that perfectly sums up the importance of family dinner time:
“It takes a lot of unhurried time to nurture and enjoy our families. Children grow up, parents grow old. There is not enough time to put off loving.
Our modern culture is trying to convince us that time spent on dinner preparation is wasted time, and that we need to multi-task during mealtime to keep up.
Not true. What we need is to find ways to make cooking food and eating together fit into our busy lives. “
So, add a special vibe to the dinner table by lighting some candles and dimming the lights. Show your kids how special they are to you by taking the extra time to make family dinners more meaningful.
7. Let your kids choose the menu
Get your kids excited about dinner time by involving them in meal planning! In fact, getting them to help with dinner—and actually enjoy it!— is not as hard as you might think.
I discovered one way I get my kids excited about dinner time is by letting them choose the menu. They can select a main dish, one or two side dishes, and either a yummy drink or a delicious dessert. Then I teach them the skills they need to make it. This gets them very excited to eat the dinner they planned and helped to prepare themselves.
8. Have a picnic dinner
Encourage family fun and spontaneity by spreading out a large blanket and serving family dinner picnic-style. Use the living room floor in the winter or enjoy the back yard during the summer.
Keep the mess to a minimum by dishing your food at the kitchen counter and serving on paper plates. Then bring them to the picnic!
9. Be on a schedule and be prepared
Having a routine is extremely important for kids. And dinner time is no exception.
When you set a consistent schedule for family meals and stick to it, your kids can learn the concept of looking forward to dinner. Because routines give them a sense of security.
Routines have the ability to eliminate power struggles so you can stop being the *bad guy*. They help kids learn to cooperate because they know what to expect when parents are consistent. And finally, routines allow for the time to build connections and cooperation with your kids.
Allow your kids to anticipate and get excited for dinner time by having a consistent routine they can follow every evening.
10. Get creative with dips, toppings, and garnishes
There are a variety of dips and toppings you can use to get your kids excited about eating dinner.
You can go basic with store-bought dips like Ranch, taco sauce, yogurt, peanut or other nut butter, ketchup, hummus, salsa, mustard, barbecue sauce, honey, and sour cream. Or get extravagant and make your own!
The sky is really the limit. In fact, I dare you to run out of ideas.
11. Make sure they’re hungry
This may be the most difficult task of all, but allowing your kids to be hungry for a short time will greatly improve their chances of excitement toward dinner time.
Try setting a rule that your family stops snacking at a certain time WELL before dinner. My kids know that our “kitchen closes” at 4 pm because we eat dinner as close to 5:30 pm as possible.
A good rule of thumb is: No snacking at least 90 minutes before the next meal.
This rule has proven itself in more ways than one. My kids are excited to come to dinner, they have a better appetite for healthy foods on the table, AND I don’t have to replenish our snack supply as often!
12. Dinnertime shenanigans
Our family really looks forward to spending quality time together at the table. And one way we do this is by playing games.
Try making dinner time FUN TIME and get your kids excited to come to dinner! Here are some ideas to get you started playing games at your table too.
Word games—as a group, try to think of words that have double meanings. Ex: saw (noun) and saw (verb). Or words that sound the same but have different meanings and different spellings. Ex: plane and plain, see and sea, etc. We started playing this game when my oldest daughter was just 7 years old. We still enjoy playing it and she’s 16 now!
“Would you rather” questions
Build a story—Start with “Once upon a time…”. Then go around the table and each person takes a turn adding one word to the story.
Name that tune—hum the tune to a song you all know and whoever guesses correctly gets to take the next turn.
Guess the Disney movie—take turns saying quotes from Disney movies and whoever guesses correctly gets to take the next turn. My kids really get into this one with accents and facial expressions!
13. Eat dinner as a family
Studies show that eating dinner as a family has an enormous impact on kids and families. In fact, “The more dinners a week the better.” Children who eat dinner at the table with their family are more likely to eat healthy, are less likely to be overweight, they do better in school, and they have better relationships with their parents.
But it’s reported that only about half of US families are eating dinner together on a regular basis. So why aren’t families meals more of a priority in our homes?
You can get your kids excited to come to the dinner table by making a consistent effort to hold family meals together as often as possible. But don’t just take my word for it!
14. No TV or phones during dinnertime—including Mom & Dad!
This one should be a no-brainer. We come to the table to have fun as a family and enjoy a delicious meal together. This is not the time for electronic distractions.
Besides, your kids are smart!
They recognize what you deem important and pay attention to. If you act as though your work or social life are higher on the priority list than dinner with the family, don’t be surprised to find your kids will learn to feel and act the same way.
15. Perform a dinner service
A quote I really love by Dieter F. Uchtdorf goes like this: “As we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our own lives and our own happiness.”
I think it’s important to teach our children that happiness can come from many different sources. One of those sources being service.
How service applies to getting your kids excited for dinner time:
- Encourage your kids to help you plan and prepare a special meal, then set aside a portion of it to deliver to a single neighbor down the street. After you drop it off, head back home and enjoy dinner together as you discuss how giving service made your kids feel.
- Invite old friends you haven’t seen in a long time for dinner at your house. Ask your kids to you help you plan the meal, shop for food, and double the recipe so you have enough to share. Get them excited to serve old friends by setting a nice table and making a yummy dessert. You can talk all about the service they’re performing while you prepare your “service meal” together.
My kids are always excited and look forward to dinner time when it involves giving service to other people.
I can’t wait for your family to try this idea and let me know how it goes!
16. Exploration in the kitchen
When my kids started cooking with me, I quickly realized how lost they were in the kitchen. They didn’t know where anything was! I determined early on to lower my guard and let them explore, taste, create, and really just have fun in the kitchen.
Allow your kids in the kitchen and give them a tour. Let them smell and taste the spices, let them poke and play around in the kitchen gadgets drawer. Allow your toddlers to bang on the pots and pans.
When I feel lost or unsure of what to do next, I’m pretty miserable. I figured my kids probably felt the same way. And when they finally became more comfortable in the kitchen, they started to have a lot more fun.
Get your kids comfortable being in the kitchen, and I bet you’ll be surprised at how excited they get to help with dinner, and eat it too!
17. Take them grocery shopping
Just like exploring the kitchen, kids will start to have a lot of fun when they feel included in the process and feel more comfortable in their surroundings.
Try taking your kids to the grocery store and let them help you select fresh produce for family dinners that week. You could even give them the shopping list and turn your shopping trip into a scavenger hunt!
18. Try new foods
When you’re at the grocery store, let your child select a new food to try and learn how to cook it together.
Whether it’s a new fruit or veggie in the produce section, new spices, a new cheese, or a different meat selection than their use to. Pave the way for open-mindedness and enthusiasm to try new things.
And don’t forget to be a brave parent! Your kids are watching every move you make. So do your best to be optimistic about trying new foods too.
19. Set an elegant table
Get your kids excited for a special dinner by getting fancy with the place settings. Pull out your best dishes, cloth napkins, and flatware. You can even create simple personalized place cards for each family member.
You could be serving a simple casserole and steamed veggies, but your kids will think it’s the king’s buffet if you let them eat on your fine china. And don’t worry if you don’t already have expensive dishes. Just head to the thrift store and spend a few bucks on embellished glass plates and crystal goblets.
Make your family feel special and look forward to a wonderful night together around the dinner table by setting a lovely table for them.
20. Choose a new recipe
Take your kids to the library and check out a recipe book from the library, or browse Pinterest together. Let them choose a new recipe they’ve never tried and have fun making a new dish together.
It’s always exciting to try new things. And dinner time is a wonderful time to experience the bold and the new!
21. Grow your own food
When I was growing up, my family planted a garden every other year or so. We’d plant zucchini, tomatoes, broccoli, snow peas, lettuce, and more. And always one of my favorite things to do was to go out to the garden and pick veggies for dinner.
Get your kids excited to eat dinner made from vegetables and fruits from their own backyard!
And don’t stress if you don’t have room to grow a big garden! Try purchasing a small basil plant to keep in your kitchen window and make your very own homemade pesto!
Or you could even visit a pick-your-own vegetable patch or orchard. Help your kids see how much fun it can be to pick their own food from the earth and eat it for dinner.
22. Encourage food-play
Gone are the days of requiring perfect table manners. We have more pressing matters to deal with—like getting our kids to stay at the dinner table!
Get your kids excited about dinner time and lose the no-nonsense rule. Let them play with their food. Let them taste it, smell it, touch it, or even put it on their faces like my son, Dylan, in the image above.
Think positive and let loose with them. Enjoy your kids as they are and let them be kids.
23. Plan an authentic cuisine night
Let your kids choose a foreign country and learn about foods that are made and served there. Then help them select a menu that includes those dishes and talk about the things you learned about that country.
Have fun discussing interesting or favorite things you discovered while you cook and eat together. Bonus points for including a dessert!
24. Serve the dinner beverage in fancy stemware
You don’t even have to deck the entire table with elegant place settings. Your kids will feel special and fancy if you just serve the dinner drink in fancy goblets or other wine glasses.
You can whip out your treasured holiday glasses or grab a few plastic versions from the dollar store. Your kids will think it’s special even if they’re drinking regular ol’ water!
*Or you could really get them excited for dinner by serving a fun drink, such as bubbly apple cider.
25. Use a dinner bell
Another fun way to get your kids excited for dinner is to use a dinner bell. You can summon the family to dinner like signaling a herd of cattle by letting your kids take turns ringing a bell for dinnertime.
And there are so many cute and inexpensive versions available! Our family dinner bell is an antique cowbell I purchased from Etsy and then ordered a hook from amazon to hang it from.
Just find one that suits your family and watch the dinnertime magic happen. And just like Pavlov’s dogs, whenever your dinner bell is rung, the kids will begin salivating and come running in for dinner!
26. Educational placemats
Another unique way to encourage family conversations—besides using a fun conversation jar mentioned above—is with educational placemats.
Kids get bored easily, especially when they have to do something they may not want to, such as sit at the table to eat dinner. So squelch that dinner boredom by serving your family meal on educational placements like these that will help promote interesting and thought-provoking conversation.
27. Give encouragement and thanks
It is very powerful for kids to see their parents offer up encouragement and gratitude. When children feel proud of themselves, they tend to be more positive and behave better. Praise and encouragement are the gateways to motivating your child to strive for success in the kitchen and at the dinner table.
You can say something like, “thank you for your awesome help with preparing dinner tonight!” Or “Isn’t it so great that we get to spend time eating this delicious meal together?”
Be creative with ways to motivate, praise, and encourage your children to be excited for dinner time. A pat on the back, a quick shoulder rub, a wink in their direction, or a simple “thanks for hanging out with me tonight!”, will go a long way in making your child feel appreciated and encouraged to enjoy dinner with the family.
Stop the dinner time struggle
Dinner time isn’t meant to be a battleground—it’s a chance to talk to and spend quality time with your kids. And when you take the time—whether a lot or a little—to improve the chances of everyone enjoying dinner, it can really pay off.
Discover how to get your kids to sit for dinner
Try one, or even all, of these 26 sure-fire ways for getting your kids excited about dinner time and please let me know how it goes!
Discover what it takes to get your kids excited for dinner time and have fun as a family while you’re at it. And I’m ready to bet your kids will be excited to sit until their tummies are fed and their hearts are full.