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Dinner and a Movie: Holiday Movies to Watch as a Family

Posted on: November 23rd, 2020 by Bri DeRosa

While eating dinner in front of the television isn’t something we recommend every night, sometimes a change of pace can help promote more fun, conversation and connection than the same old routine! That’s why we’ve launched our Dinner and a Movie feature. We’re teaming up with our friends at Common Sense Media to choose family-friendly movies that can help you promote character building while enjoying some fun time together. When you pair them with our suggestions for food, fun and conversation, you can have a memorable Dinner and a Movie experience that turns screen time into family bonding time that everyone will look forward to.


The holiday season is always a good time to curl up with family and watch movies, but it might be especially tempting to do some binge-watching in 2020. As COVID-19 cases continue to spike in many areas, some families will spend part of the holiday season in lockdown or practicing extra social distancing precautions. But whether it’s a holiday or not, movie nights might be the perfect way to relax and spend quality time together right now. After all, 2020 has been a tiring year for just about everyone! We’re teaming up with our friends from Common Sense Media to offer some festive Dinner and a Movie suggestions, pulled from the Common Sense list of Gratitude-Inspiring Holiday Movies.

Some of the selections on this list are traditional holiday films. Others are more surprising and might not come to mind when you think of “holiday” movies. But what ties them together are the themes of gratitude and compassion they share. In a year when we’ve missed out on so many celebrations, milestones and even normal daily routines, focusing on stories of gratitude might be just the thing to lift our spirits this holiday season.

Movie Recommendations from The Family Dinner Project and Common Sense Media:

Annie (ages 6+)
Up (ages 6+)
Elf (ages 7+)
It’s a Wonderful Life (ages 9+)
Lion (ages 13+)


Angel food cake lime

You could enjoy any of these movies with whatever holiday foods your family feels grateful for. But you could also have lots of fun with movie-specific menus! If you choose to watch Annie, you might catch the mentions of fried chicken, clam chowder and ice cream soda, among other food items. Try our recipes for fish chowder and oven-fried chicken and make ice cream floats for dessert. Ice cream also features in Up. You could serve chocolate and butter brickle with a dinner of hot dogs to honor Russell and Carl’s friendship.

If you’re watching Elf, enjoy it along with a spaghetti dinner — but we recommend saving the maple syrup for other uses, like setting up a taste-testing station of Buddy’s food groups (candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup). Get creative with a menu for It’s a Wonderful Life and set up a plate of bread, salt and wine to reflect Mary’s gift basket to her friends, make a moon-themed menu (maybe a “pizza pie?”) and finish it off with Angel Food Cake in honor of Clarence the Angel. And if you choose to watch Lion, you could make Tandoori Chicken and Spicy Chickpeas before trying this recipe for the sweet jalebi Saroo remembers eating in the film.



There are lots of ways to have fun with the idea of gratitude this holiday season. Try playing a game like the Gratefulness Grab Bag or the ABCs of Gratitude for an easy start. Take things to the next level with some of the giving activities in our #GivingTuesday resources to really reinforce the meaning of the season. Or focus on gratitude for family time with our daily activity calendar for December, with lots of food, fun and conversation ideas to keep everyone connected this month.


Talking about gratitude as a family is important, but it can also feel overly “preachy” at times. Using movies as the inspiration for the conversation takes the pressure off and can help keep the tone light and conversational, so kids don’t feel like they’re being lectured. Try these conversation starters to go with each of the recommended films, contributed by our team and by the team at Common Sense Media.

If You’re Watching Annie:

  • Talk about how characters of color are portrayed in Annie. What kinds of stereotypes do you recognize? How does that affect your enjoyment of the movie? Has society changed since this movie was made?
  • How do the characters in Annie demonstrate courage and gratitude? Why are those important character strengths?
  • What message do you think the filmmakers want viewers to take away from watching? Do you think Annie’s “rags to riches” journey is one that people can actually achieve in real life? Why, or why not?

If You’re Watching Up:

  • Talk about Up‘s central relationship between Carl and Russell. What does the movie have to say about multigenerational friendships? What does a young boy teach an elderly man, and vice versa? What lessons could you teach to someone younger than you? How about someone older than you?
  • Kids: What kind of adventures do you dream of having? Does an adventure need to be somewhere far away? How could we keep a sense of adventure in our time together here at home?
  • How do the characters in Up demonstrate empathy and teamwork? What about integrity and gratitude?
  • Why do you think Carl might be having a hard time feeling emotions like gratitude at the beginning of the movie? Can you relate to his struggle? What helped Carl get through it, and what helped you through a similar time?

If You’re Watching Elf:

  • Talk about whether Buddy is a role model. Do you think Elf intends for him to be someone people admire? Why or why not? Are you more likely to laugh at him or with him? What’s the difference?
  • If you arrived in your town after 30 years at the North Pole, what do you think might surprise and delight you the way that the escalator and revolving door surprised and delighted Buddy?
  • How do the characters in Elf demonstrate compassion and gratitude? Why are these important character strengths?
  • It’s easy to see what Buddy is grateful for. But what about the other characters in Elf? What do you think they’re grateful for at the beginning of the movie? How does that compare to what they might be grateful for at the end? Has what you’re grateful for changed over time, too? How?

If You’re Watching It’s a Wonderful Life:

  • You might want to talk about It’s a Wonderful Life‘s more disturbing aspects. For instance, George contemplates suicide because he thinks he failed in his life. This article contains some helpful advice from experts on talking to kids about suicide.
  • How is George defining failure? Do you think the people around him define failure the same way?
  • Talk about how each member of your own family enhances the others’ lives. How can you show that every day?
  • George Bailey becomes more grateful for what he has after he experiences what it would be like to lose everything. Have you ever lost, or almost lost, something that you then appreciated more?
  • Clarence helps George by showing him his impact on the world and helping him to see himself through others’ eyes. Is there anyone in your life who helps you to see your impact on others? How do they help you?

If You’re Watching Lion:

  • What makes Lion such an emotional story? Do you enjoy tearjerkers? Why do you think we sometimes seek out movies that will make us cry?
  • How do the characters demonstrate compassion, gratitude, and perseverance?
  • What is the movie’s message about adoption? Does it offer a positive representation of an adoptive family?
  • Lion is based on a true story. If you wrote a book or movie about a life experience you’re grateful for, what would it be about?

Did you enjoy your Dinner and a Movie experience? Check out our other Dinner and a Movie themes, and look for more ideas coming soon!