The Family Dinner Project + Blue Star Families
Serving up family dinner help to those who serve our country.
We are excited about our partnership with BlueStar Families to make dinner easier, more meaningful and more fun for military families! Our goal with this page is to offer resources and tips that address the unique challenges military families face when it comes to mealtime. Ultimately, it’s about helping families make the most of their time together.
Just as we’re happy to share our ideas, we’ve gained a lot of wonderful wisdom from some of the Blue Star Families’ military spouses. Whether you’re a member of a military family or not, we invite you to peruse this page and add your voice to the conversation via our Facebook page.
Adjusting to a New Normal
- Usually we’re not big fans of technology at the table, but if you can Skype or do FaceTime with a loved one during a meal, we fully endorse it!
- Write postcards once a week during dessert.
- Write a “Letter by Sentence”—a twist on our Story by Sentence game in which everyone around the table writes a sentence (or draws a picture if they prefer) for the lucky recipient.
- Sharing your favorite and funny stories about your service member is a great way to make his or her presence felt and, bonus: studies show storytelling helps build resilience in kids!
- Break out a map at the table and identify the place where the loved one is deployed/TDY. Ask: What do you think it’s like in _____, and let your children’s imaginations fly!
During times of transition, it may be a good idea to revisit your mealtime rituals. Some rituals may bring comfort while others may be a reminder for you or your children of the void left by a missing parent. It’s well known that kids thrive on structure and routine—on knowing what to expect. So you don’t want to shake things up too much. The idea is to find a healthy balance of old and new.
A FEW SUGGESTIONS:
- Switch “assigned” seats at the table. Pull out new dishes. Try some new recipes. Introduce a new weekly ritual like “Taco Tuesdays.” Or go hog wild like Sarah Smiley did and invite someone new to the dinner table every week! Not only is this idea fun, but doing something weekly can help kids keep track of time, which can be difficult for younger children.
Create an Extended “Family.”
Reach out to others in your community in the same situation as you. It can be very reassuring for both parents and children to be around people in “the same shoes,” who are sharing many of the same challenges that you are. Here’s are ways to make it fun and get lots of folks involved:
HAVE A BAKE OFF!
- Choose one food item that everyone makes beforehand. Throw a party where you share the finished “products.” All participants get to taste and vote on their favorite recipe. (this can also be a fun idea for older kids to do with their friends). Or ask two people to each make the same recipe, like chicken soup or fish tacos. Then everyone eats and votes. If folks want to, you could all chip in a few dollars to that the winner gets a gift certificate to a local ice cream store or restaurant!
DO A DINNER SWAP
- Once you have your extended “family” in place, you can make dinner easier and more varied by cooking for each other. Here’s an idea one creative military mom shared with us: once a month she made enough of her favorite dinner to serve four families. Then she swapped with four other families, so that each family went home with four different meals to try. It’s more fun than just cooking for your own clan, and everyone gets to try something different!
Here’s an appetizer of tips and resources from our free, online program:
Food, Fun and Conversation: 4 Weeks to Better Family Dinners.
Make it Easier.
Dinnertime is rarely easy, but when you’re a one-parent household, it can be even more challenging. Here are some tried and true ideas to make it more manageable:
EMPLOY THE TROOPS!
Get the whole family involved! Cooking together can be a fun activity that allows you to connect with your kids. Even very young children can stir a pot, crumble the cheese, set the timer, measure ingredients, pick leafy green vegetables off their stems, crack an egg, or whisk something. They can also help set and clear the table. And older kids can make a meal once or twice a week, or create a dinner music playlist, which can also be a great conversation starter!
SET MANAGEABLE GOALS.
If you don’t currently have a family dinner ritual, start small. One night a week, gather everyone to sit down together. If you can’t get everyone together at the same time for dinner, make it breakfast or dessert instead. Be flexible! And be kind to yourself. Remember: The good enough dinner is good enough.
KEEP COOKING SIMPLE.
Choose recipes with few and easily available ingredients. On our website, you’ll find recipes that are easy to make and require about eight ingredients or less. And bonus—they each come with a dinner game idea and a conversation starter!
Make it Fun.
Games are a great way to lighten the mood at the table and get kids to stay seated longer! Try Two Truths and a Tall Tale the next time your kids get antsy. Ask everyone at the table to say three things about themselves: two true things and one thing that’s made up. The rest of the table will guess which is the tall tale.
See more Fun ideas »
Make it Meaningful.
It’s always good check in with your kids to see how they are doing, particularly during times of transition. Here are tips to keep in mind when trying to connect with your kids at the dinner table—or anywhere:
Listen, make eye contact, and don’t offer advice or get defensive. Remember that it’s not about having the perfect thing to say, but listening without distraction and acknowledging rather than dismissing feelings. Ask questions that you don’t know the answer to, such as “Can you say more about that?”
Sometimes you simply don’t have the answer to a question your child asks. Admit that you don’t know, and tell them you will try to find out. If your child is struggling, reassure them that while it’s not easy, she will be OK. Physical closeness including hugs, high fives and pats on the back are good medicine, too.
TRY PLAYFULNESS INSTEAD.
Sometimes it’s better to let conversation emerge naturally while playing a game, taking a walk or cooking together, rather than sitting down face to face. Younger kids may respond better to play, so break out the stuffed animals or the art supplies. You may be surprised at the results.
Check out our wealth of conversation starters » »
Create a personal history timeline.
- This is something your child can do before or after dinner that is not only fun, but can help alleviate worry. Have your child make a long horizontal line on a big piece of paper. Start with a star, for their birth, and then have them mark key events that have happened to them in their lives so far, followed by events they hope will happen in the future. This exercise helps to a) put current events in perspective and b) open up opportunities for reflection on the good and bad things your child has experienced so far. It also serves as a reminder: this too shall pass.