New Dinnertime Family Traditions

Experts agree: Dinnertime matters. Kids who eat frequently with their families have a lower risk of substance abuse, reduced tension and stress at home, and get better grades says The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. But the dream of family dinners often collides with the reality of sports, homework and other obligations. On those rare nights when every does gather, it may seem difficult to keep the conversation going—much less get it started. One way to build cohesive bonds? Start some new dinnertime family traditions with the help of these fun dinner table activities!

  1. Celebrate different kinds of holidays: Who knew: There’s a National Pancake Day. A National Strawberry Day—even a National Hamburger Day. Do a quick Internet search for a list of possible food-themed dinner ideas that could be the spark you need to start some brand new family traditions.
  2. Dinner doodles: In place of a tablecloth, spread a long piece of kraft paper on the table and scatter some pencils. This is one of many dinner table activities that can start long before meal time: Have the kids gather before dinner to sketch favorite doodles, and rank different drawings as “favorite” and “most inventive.”
  3. Takeout time: No time for dinner on Thursdays? Make it takeout night, and rotate the choice of where you order to a different family member each week.
  4. The good and the bad: Everyone has highs and lows, and talking openly about them both can be one of a family's most important dinner table activities. Get your kids talking by asking them the best and worst parts of their day. Another idea: Discuss a kindness they did or witnessed, and a choice they wish they’d made differently.
  5. Conversation starters: Fill a jar or basket with different topics—some fun, some silly, some real-world, some newsworthy—and draw one topic per dinner, then discuss as a family. Remember: All opinions are valid.
  6. Build your brain: Sure, they’ve learned all day long at school, but kids relish the chance to master a topic outside the school’s curriculum (plus, parents don’t mind learning, too). Pick a new word or unfamiliar country, for example.
  7. Turn it upside down: Breakfast for dinner, a picnic inside, the evening meal in your pajamas: There are plenty of ways to add more fun—and maybe a new family tradition—to the ordinary nighttime meal.
  8. Trivia turn: Do you have cards from a trivia-themed board game? Toss them in a basket and take turns pulling questions and guessing at answers. It’s a low-key way to twist family game night.
  9. Joke’s on you: A little laughter does wonders to lighten the mood, remove tension from the day, and to help family members focus on a shared emotion. Find a book of family-themed jokes or riddles at the library and share it around the table.
  10. Add some meaning: Some families say grace or offer a blessing before a meal. you don’t do this, consider opening the meal with a phrase or passage from a book—even a poem. Give each family member a turn at whatever ritual suits you.

Every family is different and so are their family traditions. The important part is just having them! Use some of your favorite ideas for dinner table activities from above to spark your own unique take on tradition. To learn more about making the most of your time around the table, stay tuned for more tips from Vanity Fair® .