I started this O4U series by explaining why family meals are extremely important, particularly in this day and age. The world today moves much faster than it did when I was young. Even when my son was young, things were not as fast-paced as they are today. How many people have you seen reading texts and never look up before crossing a street? How many kids do you know who actually PLAY outside after school with their friends? A “normal” routine no longer includes “down time”. Everyone goes in different directions as they try to accomplish everything that needs to be done.
Sadly, spending time with the most important people in the entire world has taken a back seat. Try to think back to when you were starting your family. How much time did you spend preparing for your new bundle of joy to come into your lives? Did you have baby showers? Did you create a special area in your home for your new baby? Were you excited when your child took his/her first step? Or grew the first tooth? What about their first day of school? How many other milestones did you celebrate with your child? Now, try to think about when that special feeling started to fade away. What happened?
Your child still needs your attention. Kids learn to be independent and put up a façade to appear impervious to need. Your support needs to be provided in a way that will enhance his/her image. When you use a method that is acceptable to your child, you can successfully penetrate that armor. As a perk, your child will want his/her friends to join! Keep in mind that those friends are peers. Peer pressure can be brutal, or it can also be helpful.
With all that said, you know the importance of bonding with your kids. Before the bullies in the world try to force their ways onto your child. Before drugs or gangs or drinking or sex enter the scene. By getting to know your kids’ friends, you will learn how they deal with your kids. It is always easier to prevent problems from happening than it is to solve them. Get to know what your kids’ friends like and how they interact with your kids. When you do that, you can gear some activities to them so they ask your kids to join! It sounds a bit underhanded; however, it is important that your kids be receptive to family meals and activities. An added perk is you will find activities and interaction that you never would have thought of on your own.
To Recap, You Now Have or Know:
- A large calendar that everyone can enter their activities so everyone sees who is doing what and when.
- How much money you can spend on perks and “giveaways” to keep things fun. This is another area where knowing what your kids’ friends like will be helpful.
- Thought of a variety of ways to present family meals and activities in an inviting manner rather than as a directive.
- Came up with a variety of locations and times where family meals and/or family and/or friends’ activities can be held.
- List of potential meals and appetizers (several appetizers make a meal) to have in case no one offers suggestions.
- Potential “buy in” methods to use to create anticipation for quality family times.
- Variety of conversation starters at the ready in case things get quiet at dinner time.
- Suggestions for family and friends’ activities to get things started.
- Quick and easy meals to provide if no one comes up with suggestions.
- These include a variety of taste tests. Taste tests are ALWAYS fun! Everyone is so focused on tasting the food that they do not realize they’re spending time together!
- Your camera ready to take photos of fun events so you can text the photos to your kids. Hopefully your kids will share those photos with their friends. Always keep that in mind.
- With all of the above, you are ready to start.
Some final suggestions for meals, activities, and taste tests are below:
- Watermelon seed spitting contest after a watermelon taste testing event (get yellow and red watermelons).
- Homemade ice cream night. I used to plug in my electric ice cream maker in the bathtub (so the noise was away from us and all salt water went down the drain with no work from me).
- Theme Dinners such as: Early West Wagon Train meal, Christmas in July, Around the World, Fondue Fun, Favorites Fun, etc.
- A tailgate party in the parking lot of their sports or concert events. This is great if you cannot work around your kids’ sporting events or ice skating lessons or other school-related activities.
- Picnics on the patio or back yard. Put a blanket on the ground, just like you would at a park.
- Indoor games such as Wii Fit while everyone has sandwiches or other finger foods.
- Food & Fun Night: Serve a simple meal and play a board game while eating.
- Chef de Jour: let each member of the family plan the meal and/or be the sous chef or prep chef or executive chef.
- Play with Your Food (yup – you read that correctly!): using veggies & luncheon meats, cheese, etc., to make funny faces or Skeleton for Halloween or Turkey for Thanksgiving, a Funny Face, Food Animals, and other Food Fun Ideas. Harvard College and YMCA assembled this booklet about Food, Fun, and Family.
- More Ways to Play with Food.
- Teen Leads: Let your teens take the lead in planning of how to make meals fun: birthday, lost a tooth, concert, 1st chair in orchestra, Drum Major, any part in a school play, etc. Celebrate everything!
- If activities will involve a weekend getaway, ask everyone to list all of the details that will need to be researched, ask who will do which tasks (where the event will be held, how to get there, number of miles so you can calculate how much gasoline will need to be purchased, hotels in the area, how to get the best hotel rates, restaurants in the area and how to get coupons to get money off the meals, cheap ways to eat while in the area, etc.).
- Day trips will avoid paying for a hotel room.
- Ask kids to post on social media AFTER the event so your house is not robbed while you are away.
- Natural history museums (eat lunch or dinner at a picnic table outside the museum) or “Please touch museums” or other museums in the area.
- Local festivals (bring lunch or dinner to have in the parking lot)
- Weird roadside attractions that can be done on a day trip
- Day trips:
- Huffington Post Day Trips by State
- AAA, Visitors’ Centers, and Chambers of Commerce will have ideas.
- My family has as much fun planning a trip or weekend excursion as we do actually going on the trip or to the park, etc.
- Play the soundtrack for a movie that we all loved seeing and see who can name the part of the movie that the music was played during the movie.
- Make a scrapbook page for a planning session. My family gets pretty wild with this. One page has a piece of real fish net that goes across 2 pages and is “tied” to a “tree” on both pages, we made “water” by using finger paints and sprinkled blue glitter on the paint before it dried. Another time, we made a “movie theater” by securing fabric on both sides and across the top so it looks like the stage at a school concert.
- My 19-year-old granddaughter still asks to make scrapbook pages when we do special things. She got her father to agree to make a scrapbook page with her. I bought the supplies while we were on vacation in Hawaii so she and he could do it together.
- Bread and Butter Night: You can get frozen loaves of bread. Just put a loaf in a bread pan, spread oil on top, cover with plastic wrap, and let it sit out for 5-6 hours. It will thaw and rise. Then just pop it in the oven at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until baked.
- Let the kids make butter to serve on your freshly baked bread.
- Create your own glow-in-the-dark bowling game. It is a great way to engage the kids that is fun for everyone because it is unique. They will have as much fun making the glow-in-the-dark bottles as they do knocking them down. It is easy to make. You need 10 glow sticks (different colors), a ball that is heavy enough to knock over the water bottles, 10 water bottles, and pencil & paper to keep score. Keep in mind if you have a range of ages participating, to make different distances for younger kids. Teens would get into it because this is such a unique game and they love posting on social media.
- Arrange a Taste Test Planning Meeting with your kids to determine:
- What kind of foods will be tested? Below are some websites that provide great examples:
- How many place settings will be set up and where.
- Decide how the foods to be taste tested will be scored:
- Farm to School Taste Tests (at end of document are example score sheets.
- List of Adjectives to Describe Foods (from My Kids’ Adventures).
- Taste Test: Take a Bite.
- Tasting with Your Nose.
- Kids Health: Tasting – with Your Nose? (Score sheet example).
- Super-Tasting Science: Find Out If You’re a “Supertaster”!
- Three Food Games to Entertain Your Kids for Hours.
- Or come up with your own scoring mechanism.
- Be sure to have a camera ready. There should be loads of fun photos!
- Declare which food item was a winner and celebrate the fun!
Below is an example of a simple score sheet.
If you completed the steps in the previous six weeks’ articles, you are ready to begin having fun. Everyone has fun: kids, friends, and parents. I remember laughing so hard my sides and cheeks hurt!
By now, you are ready to Let the Games Begin and to CELEBRATE!
Please consider sharing your experiences with any of this month’s Opportunity for You by leaving a comment. Or, if you have other suggestions, please leave those.