Summertime will be here before we know it, and with the warm weather comes the opportunity to change up the dinner table routines we’ve been sticking with all year long. It’s not just fun to take dinnertime outside; it can also be necessary, as the final weeks of the school year tend to bring a rush of last sporting events and ceremonies, and the summer months follow with adventures and excursions that can have families out of the house well past the dinner hour.
Whether in summertime or any other time of year, outdoors or indoors, a picnic dinner can be a practical and fun way to make sure that your family shares mealtimes whenever and wherever you are. Here’s how — and why — you should consider making picnics a regular part of your family dinner strategy.
Picnic dinners mean togetherness on the go. Sometimes it feels like family dinner just can’t happen in the midst of all our other scheduled commitments. Packing up some sandwiches and enjoying them together wherever you land — on the soccer sidelines, in the lobby before the dance recital, outside the school auditorium or even in a parking lot (tailgating, anyone?) — can make a big difference in how you feel about a “rushed” mealtime. Just 10 minutes of sitting face to face and sharing your picnic dinner will do much more for your connections with each other (and your mood!) than cramming in a drive-thru dinner en route, so opt for the picnic if you have a few minutes to spare! Check out more tips for making the most of the situation when dinner feels impossible.
Moving dinner away from the table shakes things up. A little switch in the usual routine can really lift the mood and make expected rituals feel new again. Even if you’ll be at home and able to serve dinner at the table during your usual mealtime, taking it outdoors — or to the living room floor, if the weather isn’t cooperating — could be just what you need to get everyone relaxing and interacting more comfortably. Let the picnic blanket give you permission to move freely, eat with your fingers and focus more on each other than table manners, and see what develops! Worried about the weather? Try an indoor picnic to add some fun to family dinner at any time of the year!
Eating outside opens up the fun. The Family Dinner Project is all about food, fun and conversation — with an emphasis on fun! Moving dinner outdoors provides an automatic opportunity to add new elements of family fun to the mealtime. An added bonus could be stimulating appetites in reluctant eaters, since research shows that kids who have recess before lunchtime at school eat more and better-balanced meals than peers who don’t get playtime first. Try adding some family playtime in the great outdoors before you serve your picnic dinner, and you just might find that the food goes down easier after all that fun!Let the kids get a little messy outside with this Food Coloring Painting activity, or take advantage of the change in setting and play a round of Use Your Senses.
Bringing a Breath of Fresh Air to The Family Dinner Project
Family dinner isn’t the only thing getting a little fresh air this summer! The Family Dinner Project is working on a refresh, too — a new, improved and more user-friendly website, so you can spend less time looking for the content you love, and more time connecting with your family.
Stay tuned for updates, and look for the big reveal later this summer!
Think Outside the Screens
While you’re eating outside, you’ve got a built-in excuse to make sure that dinner is screen-free, which presents a perfect opportunity to practice face-to-face social skills that our “digital native” kids may lack. We love this tip from Parents Magazine: Have a staring contest with your kids! The time-honored childhood activity is a great way to build comfort with prolonged eye contact, and can lead to more nuanced lessons about making eye contact during conversations over time.
Family of the Month
This month, we’re featuring the Geller-Pyne family from Rhode Island! Quick meals that help them stay on the go are the basis of their family dinner strategy as they balance challenging work schedules with the needs of an active pre-teen.