Several weeks into social distancing, fun family ideas start to fizzle. After seeing animals in various zoos while they were still open, assembling jigsaw puzzles, and trying to make daily schoolwork fun and interesting, we needed ideas to keep our pre-teen and teens occupied. That’s when we came up with themed dinner nights!
The dinner theme plan
Our first dinner theme was completely on a whim. We all agreed what time dinner would be and went our separate ways. Since we chose “fancy” as the first night’s dinner theme, we showered and put on our Sunday best.
Around 6:30 pm we met up at the front door where we “traveled” to our fancy restaurant, complete with candlelight and soft music. We pulled out some conversation cards to get things going, and before long, we were laughing and enjoying our time together. It didn’t feel like we had been inside all day.
Our older girls (ages 14 and 15) were in charge of Tuesday. They opted for Fiesta Night. We broke out our Cinco de Mayo decor and played festive music to accompany their taco bar. Before we knew it, we had traveled to Mexico for dinner! Bravo for Taco Tuesday!!!
Our 11- and 12-year-old daughters were in charge of Wednesday. They chose to make chicken stir fry on our hibachi grill with a game show theme, with Family Jeopardy and a Guess the Food Challenge. We ended the evening with a water balloon toss which naturally ended in an epic water balloon battle.
Boys’ Night was Thursday and my six-year-old son and husband decided on a holiday theme. We broke out old Halloween costumes and all picked out a fun outfit to wear. With Easter approaching, my son decided we had to have an egg hunt. Why not?
This is a time of anxiety and uncertainty for all of us. There are so many unknowns. Our kids are feeling emotional right now. Scared. They might overhear a phone conversation about a death or illness, a job loss, or become alarmed about the evening news. Fun dinners didn’t erase all that, but it gave them something positive, celebratory, and creative to focus on. They made plans, put time and thought into what they wanted to do — devised games or activities.
Did I mention dessert? Yes, having fun desserts can make any day brighter.
Now is the time to dig up old photo books or better yet home videos, grab that costume bin, let your hair down and have fun. None of us are taking this pandemic lightly. It’s terrifying. Which is all the more reason I have to do what I can to make it less so for my children — to put smiles on their faces, to use this time isolated from the world to offset some of the bad news with some happy memories.
With two working parents and countless extracurricular activities, our schedules are usually crazy hectic. I’m hoping our kids remember some of this precious, slower family time.
Here are a few great-for-all-ages dinner themes:
Tea Time. Dress to the nines. Prepare some lovely little sandwiches (with the crusts cut off, of course — maybe use a cookie cutter to make some fun shapes). Surround yourself with stuffed animals. Read some favorite bedtime stories.
Make Your Own Pizza! It doesn’t take long to chop up some toppings. Kids love eating what they make so they’ll be more likely to try new things. Score!
Breakfast for Dinner. Don your favorite slippers and cozy jammies. Flip some pancakes and eggs. Voila! Dinner, plus you are ready for a cozy movie night after!
Family Spa Night. Slice cucumbers or lime slices to add to your Topo Chico. Serve healthy and delicious baked chicken and veggies, and treat each other to a foot rub or neck massage. Extra credit: break out the beauty masks or DIY with bananas, oatmeal, and avocados. Find a few ideas and recipes here.
Superheroes! Put on your cape, grab your shield, or make one. Encourage your kiddos to raid their costume stash. Aim to eat all red, white, and blue foods or name your foods after superheroes and villains, such as Batman and the Joker or Spider Man and Dr. Octopus.
Lovely Leftovers! They don’t have to be boring. Heat everything up and make a contest of it. You snooze, you lose. Last one to the table gets the leftovers of the leftovers. It’s fun to see which foods goes first, and to witness some pretty creative concoctions and mashups. Plus, it was a great way to clear space in the fridge!
Take time to let your kids plan their own “night out.” They might surprise you. What’s more, the thought and care they put into the planning not only keeps them from saying “I’m bored,” it lets their imaginations soar!