For many families, summertime means less structured time. Without the schedules and routines that often govern family life during the school year, these next few months can bring a sort of relief and a lot more “white space” on the calendar.
The shift from school-year schedules to summertime can be both an advantage and a challenge for the family dinner — while there might be more time to slow down and enjoy one another’s company, it also might be difficult for those who thrive on structure and routine to figure out how to fit in family dinner among the various camps, outings, vacations and spontaneous adventures of summer. Our advice: Relax and let your family dinners, like your calendar, become less regimented. Summer can be the sweetest time for family meals if you “go with the flow!”
Enjoy some laid-back food, fun and conversation this summer with our help:
The backwards dinner is a great way to keep things fun, and summer — with its many opportunities for a spontaneous sweet treat — is a perfect time to try it out. In fact, team member Bri and her family make sure to prioritize an “Ice Cream for Dinner” night at least once every summer. It’s okay to (sometimes) let the food rules go and focus on the fun!
What is it about eating outdoors that makes the food taste better? A bonus to the outdoor dinner is that it presents an opportunity to relax about manners. It’s okay to run around the picnic blanket, take a break between courses for a Frisbee toss or eat with your fingers and get a little messy. If you can’t manage a full picnic dinner, try a Walking Dessert and see how the conversation opens up when you’re not focused on mealtime behavior.
Although adult work schedules may still make family dinner challenging for some of us, without the usual pressures of school-year sleep schedules, it can be easier to find a creative time for a shared meal. The summer sunrise may make breakfast together a pleasant alternative, while later bedtimes and warmer nights could mean that a star-gazing snack becomes your new bonding time. Remember, it doesn’t have to be dinner to be meaningful.
Check out one family’s experience with their own Family Breakfast Project
Cooking on a hot day isn’t usually at the top of anyone’s list of favorite tasks, and the pressure to “get home to start dinner” can sometimes mean cutting short a perfectly good outing. At least once a week, give yourself permission to serve a “good-enough” dinner: Cold sandwiches and fruit, cheese and crackers with cut-up vegetables or a big salad with leftover cold chicken are all perfectly great dinners to enjoy while the family hangs out in the backyard after a busy day. Or if you’re up to tossing something on the grill, take some tips from a young chef we know!
We usually recommend games that can be played at the table, but why not take advantage of the summer weather to have more active family dinner fun? Take a break between courses to throw a ball around or play a game of tag. Play “drip, drip, drop” (a water-play version of “Duck, Duck, Goose”) around the outdoor table or picnic blanket. Try Pictionary with sidewalk chalk. Or take advantage of the opportunity to do some messy-but-fun Food Coloring Painting outdoors!
This month, we’re featuring the Isaac family from West Virginia: Tom, Amy, and their boys Will, Ben and Drew. Like many busy families, they sometimes find themselves crunched for time and seeking strategies to help them gather for dinner. Amy says, “The best tip I got from The Family Dinner Project is that dinner doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t always have to be a gourmet meal. As long as we are all sitting down together and making a meal together, it counts.”
Spice up your summer picnics with Turkey Taco Burgers!
Summer is a great time for visiting farms and farmers’ markets. When you get home, try playing “How Many Hands?” to show off how much you’ve learned!
Enjoy some laughs together with these conversation starters about finding joy and humor in simple things.