How To Have A Family Dinner With Kids

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how to have a family dinner

How To Have A Family Dinner With Kids

From: Kelly

I have been a reader for years now, and treasure your tips on living together simply as a family. I was wondering if you can offer some tips on *how* to have a family dinner? My husband and I are parents to a young toddler, and neither of us grew up with the kind of family togetherness that we would like to have for our son.

The problem is that we’re running into dead ends as to how to have a family dinner effectively and (most of all!) simply. If we look to having "simple" meals we find them to be more expensive (Meat, 2 vegetables, etc.) or we just throw a bowl of pasta and veggies together (read: fattening!).

What kind of meals should we have or prepare with a toddler, or should we have our own and try to expose him to new kinds of foods if he does not like them?

Right now our boy can’t use silverware and we find that only one of us is eating, the other is assisting him, and the timing is all off. How do we eat as a family when someone needs assistance?

Are there any good mealtime prayers you can offer?

Should we prepare our meals on the weekends or is there something quick and nutritious we can just throw together on a weeknight when we have 2 hours of family time?

Above all, what is the best way to involve everyone in cleanup?

First, you have to understand you have a toddler. Dinner won’t be same until your toddler is at least three or four years old. I have four kids and honestly have yet to have a relaxing "simple" family dinner. I have no clue what people are talking about when they say they "want" a family dinner. To me, a family dinner with kids is just nothing but chaos. Having said that, my kids are spread out, so we have had to help someone at dinner for more than 11 years now. It is much better to get them to sit down and eat a meal than to graze all evening.

So yes, sit down and have dinner with him or her, but you will have to plan to help out for now.

Feed your child what you are eating. Just cut it up and make smaller pieces/portions.

I’m not sure I understand why simple meals are more expensive. Most dinners for me NEVER cost more than $7 to feed 6 and usually dinner costs around $5 for the entire meal, not per person. If you need some ideas check out the easy menus on our website.

As far as a prayer, we just pray as we feel led. You can look up "meal prayers" on Google and find some very good ones if you want to have the same blessing each meal. We did that growing up and here’s the one we said:

We thank you Lord for this our food for sun and rainy weather,
We thank you Lord for health and home and that we are together. Amen.

Yes, cook food and use it more than once. I cook a roast and will use it for three or four meals. I make several meals out of a chicken, too.


To clean, it works well of one person clears and wipes the table and the other one washes the dishes. Switching who does which job every so often is helpful. Now that my kids are older, each one takes seven things off the table. Then one clears what’s left, one wipes the table and the other loads the dishwasher. I have them rotate tasks each week so they all have an equal share.

I hope that gives you some ideas.



Photo By: Chris Isherwood


  1. Grandma says

    Boy were those days fun. I actually enjoyed the meals I planned for little people.
    Finger foods worked well and were so easy to get on the table in a short time frame.

    Chicken thighs cut into small pieces and cooked fast with some spices.I usually just fried them in a bit of oil till they were cooked. Plum sauce makes a nice dipping sauce and little ones love to dip food.
    Some raw vegetables cucumber, brocoli stems cut in strips, or celery. put a small bowl of salad dressing for dipping.
    Small potatoes cut into quarters for little ones and left whole for adults or those tater tots or even mashed potatoes.
    All foods that are easy to handle and if fingers are used what is the big deal. Manners can be taught at a time when it is not so hectic.

    get some plastic dishes of different colours or with characters on them. They have to eat to see the picture and that sometimes makes meals disappear.
    use dishes with dividers in them. some children hate food being mixed or touching something else. Don’t make it a big production just put them in separate slots.
    I never had drinks on the table. It was too easy for a child to fill up on drinks and then use the line. “I have to go to the bathroom” to get away from eating.

    Keep portions small. 4 bite size pieces of meat, tsp of vegetables and potatoes.
    they can always ask for more. but sometimes looking at a plate full is overwhelming.

    The most important thing to take to the table is love and a sense of humour.

  2. Donna B. says

    I think when you have a toddler, things just are a little chaotic. it’s just part of it. simple meals can be as easy as a can of beef stew over rice or noodles, soup and sandwich, or homemade chicken fingers, then cut them small for children. after their too big for baby food, portions only need to be smaller and on a smaller plate.

    I like Jill’s advice about only serving 1/2 glass of milk or juice to prevent big spills. I always took a bite of my food, and then gave a bite to the baby. If they see you eating your meal, they’ll eat the same food as mom/dad and I believe that helps prevent picky eaters.

    I never let the kids throw food or be wild at the table, and I think it taught some table manners early.

    Just some things I did “way back in the day” LOL

  3. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    Whether you eat peanut butter sandwiches or fillet mignon, it doens’t matter. Sitting around the table relating, conversing, collaborating to put the meal together, clean and store the dishes. All of its builds the relationship that we call family. There are numerous stories of the good it does for you all to eat together as a fammily. I can’t think of any at this minute.

  4. says

    I have 4 kids 10, 8, 6, 4. It seemed like I always had a baby or toddler (and sometimes both) at the table. It’s not easy, even now it can be difficult to get our dinner ready and on the table.
    My husband and I have always done family dinners together. (Unless he was working late or out of town for work). Even then the kids and I still eat together at the table. It doesn’t matter what you eat. You’re together and that’s the important part. I try to plan out my meals (usually by the month, but just try for a week). That helps with chaos. I’m not sure if you’re home or working for the day. If you work you could lay out the items you’ll need for dinner in the morning, at least the non perishables anyway, to save time after work. If you’re home crockpots can be your best friend. I homeschool our 4 and there is nothing like throwing something in the crockpot and there’s the biggest part of the meal. Tomorrow I’m putting a ham in the crockpot. I’ll just make some potatoes and green beans and some cucumber slices. Friday morning we’ll have ham and biscuits and I’ll use the rest in a macaroni. That’s 3 meals.
    I followed Tawra’s advice this grocery trip and didn’t pay more than 1.99/pound of meat and it saved us lots. Plan your meals around what’s on sale. If chicken thighs are on sale, I hunt for recipes for those. Just remember that simple isn’t wrong. It just makes life easier :)
    Sorry so long. Just wanted to try and touch a little on everything you were struggling with.

    • says

      Angela, I think you hit the nail on the head. Sitting down for dinner isn’t really about the food we eat but the fact that we are together and sharing our day and lives with each other. We focus on the food and everything involving it and need to relax and focus more on each other. I hate to make everything spiritual but if you think about it at the last supper was it really the food they were eating that night the most important thing or the things they said and did together.

  5. Colleen G. says

    Simple can be inexpensive and it doesn’t have to be fattening. Personalize what makes YOU gain weight not what the current health trends say is fattening because it keep changing which means they really don’t know and are guessing! 1) Browned ground turkey seasoned(your choice) well mixed with either peas, green beans or a veggie mix and rice 2)chicken quarters in the crock-pot with potato and carrot chunks on top 3)browned turkey seasoned with taco seasoning, in the bottom of a square pan mixed with corn and onions topped with a box cornbread batter. Bake according to the cornbread directions, cheese optional.
    Family meal time means eating in the same room, the same food and interacting with each other. I have 6 and I still can’t eat at exactly the same time as everyone else if I don’t time my 15 month old’s meal right. He eats before we do or I eat when he is done. Quite sit down dinner, well we do get to sit but quite only happens when they are no kids.

  6. Carolyn says

    Toddler meal time is insane. Right now we’ve got a disabled 5-year-old with limited self-help skills, a almost-three-year-old (if you have/had one, no further explanation is required) and a 4-month old babe.

    Our strategy is mostly to get the kids to eat. They’re hungry, they need to eat and require our help and attention. We get a few bites in, but we do the bulk of our eating after they’ve eaten and gone off to play in the adjoining room. Not ideal, but it works for us at this point in our life. That’s how I remember mealtime being growing up too.

    We do say grace together at the beginning of the meal. We’re Catholic, and we generally use the “regular” Catholic grace:

    Bless us O Lord,
    And these thy gifts
    Which we’re about to receive from thy bounty
    Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

    I also learned growing up

    God is great, God is good,
    Let us thank Him for our food
    By His hand we are fed
    Thank-you Lord for daily bread, Amen.

    (for a very young child, just use the first 2 lines, then add the second two later on)

    I’m generally satisfied if we get 3 food groups in them per meal so that we cover all of them throughout the course of the day. And expose them to lots of different foods early. My kids love curry and avocadoes. My not-quite-three-year-old will steal meatloaf and broccoli from my plate. Everyone loves spagetti with ground beef, zucchini, peppers, onions, garlic, mushrooms, and whatever else I have on hand (I chop everything up fairly small to avoid texture issues). I try to have something that everyone likes at every meal (example, DD1 loves meatloaf, DD2 loves roasted potatoes and salad, so there’s our meal), although they’re expected to have a bit of everything on their plate.

  7. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    and GOD BLESS YOU for wanting to have a family life with your little ones in spite of not growing up with the kind of family togetherness that you would like to have for our son!”

  8. B. says

    So much good information here….I’m sure Kelly will take away several ideas to help with the mealtime confusion. I will add only one thing: Kelly, what you’re trying to achieve is so very important, & the rewards are truly wonderful. You’re “in the trenches” now, but it will get easier as time goes on, if you continue with what you’ve begun. I remember thinking that I was crazy for wanting our family to have a sit-down meal each night, when it seemed there was more spilling, fidgeting, & other interruptions than actual eating! But I persevered, & I want to encourage you to do the same with your family. I believe you will find your way…..even if, to start, you make just toast & cut-up fruit, or find yourself simply opening up a can of soup & warming it on the stove.

    Best of luck! :o)

  9. Carole says

    To have a family meal, you just prepare what you want for a meal, usually a starch, meat and vegetable, put it on the the table while it’s hot or cold or whatever it’s supposed to be and call the family together. If you are religious (whatever that might be) say grace. Someone cuts the todddler’s food into bite sizes. Then eat. Usually conversation will take care of itself.

  10. MCJam says

    Seems to me that THE TODDLER is what makes it a “family” meal.

    Lo, CHILDREN ARE AN HERITAGE of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. psalms 127:3

    SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. MK10:14

  11. Mary Jane says

    I think that the biggest and best thing that you can do to have family meals is to start right from the beginning. Sit down to supper together as soon as baby is old enough to sit and be fed in the highchair. What you eat doesn’t matter, and yes, with small children, it can and will be chaotic, at times. I often see today, young parents who do not sit and eat with their kids. They either feed the kids separately, or they themselves eat on the run or while hovering over other activities. Sometimes, people don’t budget enough time for the actual act of eating at the table together. I know that people’s schedules are busy, but when I was growing up, there was seldom an outside function that took place between 4:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Everyone understood that was dinner hour or suppertime. Kids need to talk, or unwind at the end of their day (yes, even the grunting, grumbling teenagers). My grandkids are often told to hurry up and eat, and while sometimes this is necessary, most of the time, the kids are just bursting with a need to visit with their parents, and talk about life in general. I am however warmed with two incidents I have witnessed with my grand kids. Once, at a family Christmas dinner, my then 4 yr. old grandson, with great emotion said “Happy holidays everyone. Merry Christmas” right after grace was said. This past summer, I over heard my son speaking to his autistic 5 year old son as they were playing house. “What time is it?”. “Meal time,” he responded. “And what time is meal time?” my son asked. “Family time .” The little guy answered. That is what we are all aiming for.

  12. jxk says

    Our three-year old says the grace my family said when I was growing up:

    Come Lord Jesus,
    be our guest
    and let these gifts
    to us be blest.

    Let them feed themselves as best they can. Overlook the mess. Encourage them to try new things. Avoid the temptation to turn it into an epic battle. Two bites? Good enough for me!

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