Last night I had no idea what I was going to make for dinner. From the odds and bobs I found in the pantry and freezer I whipped up a clam risotto, lamb kebabs, roasted cauliflower and sautéed swiss chard with parmesan and chill flakes. This hardly ever happens. Usually I’m scrambling for ideas (the night before it was leftover roast chicken and mashed potatoes, no veg). So how did I manage to whip up an interesting (and thanks to the kebabs – fun!) meal last night, when the rest of the week was so dull?
Partly it was a combination of having the right ingredients. When you’re able to preplan a bit, you can make something special without any extra effort. It got me thinking to how to make mealtimes more interesting, not from just a culinary perspective, but how I could make this time more special for our family. After a bit of brainstorming and leafing through Laurie David’s excellent book, The Family Dinner here are a few easy mealtime tips that I came up with.
I can pretty much make risotto on a moments notice. There is always a hunk of parm and half bottle of wine in my fridge. Here are a few speciality items you can keep laying around to make a fun, festive meal:
- Frozen seafood
- Frozen baguette
- Frozen rolls (Land of Nod Cinnamon Buns for dessert and breakfast the next morning!)
- Chicken stock
- Speciality olives
- Pasta and Italian rice
- Canned artichoke hearts
- Canned escargot
- Garlic butter
- Wine (happy cook, happy life?)
Kids love routine and comfort. That’s why Taco Tuesday caught on. Tacos don’t fly so well in my house, but you can switch it up by theming one night a week. You could have a Sundae Sunday, Fry-day Friday or Wacky Wednesday, where you switch it up by having breakfast for dinner or dessert first – something they’ll never know what to expect.
When you’re stumped, make it easy on yourself and declare one night pasta night and rotate through a bunch of sauces each week. Or how about bowl night? On bowl night you serve up either rice or noodle bowls and everyone adds their own meat, veg, garnishes and sauce. It’s fun, yet ridiculously easily.
Make breakfast dinner
The Pioneer Women dedicates an entire chapter in her new cookbook, Dinnertime to breakfast dishes that are fun to eat at night. There’s the obvious: pancakes and bacon, eggs and toast, but you can kick it up a notch by making omelettes to order, crepes or even bacon and poached eggs on pasta.
Make it Special
Mealtimes are made more special when:
- Everyone sits down and eats together
- Dining by candlelight
- You dress up. Not all the time, but every once in awhile it’s nice to get all dolled up.
- Cloth napkins are used. Switching to cloth not only saves money by drastically cutting down your paper towel consumption, it’s way better for the environment, too! Williams & Sonoma always has them on sale and Pottery Barn Kids has adorable ones.
- The table is pre-set, an easy tasks kids can should do.
- You pull out a tablecloth or the good dishes. Serve the children’s drinks in fancy glasses.
- There’s a beautiful pitcher of water on the table. Glug Jugs and Gurgle Pots are good investments. They’re fun to pour and they encourage families to drink more water.
Change your location
Who says dinner has to be eaten at the table? Any meal is made special when you put it inside a wicker picnic basket and take it to your nearest playground. Or keep it simple and eat in your yard, but why not switch it up and dine on your front yard instead of the back? If the weather’s not co-operating still pack up your picnic but dine on your bed (use a tablecloth) or surprise the kids with a meal in their closet. You could even decorate it ahead of time by draping sheets and hanging holiday decorations.
Who says you have to eat with a knife and fork? Certain meals are best enjoyed without silverware such as chicken legs and seafood you need to peel or shell. Spread your table with newspaper and dump your bounty in the middle of the table crab boil style and let everyone dive in. Even if you’re serving a regular meal, declare it Pirate Night and have everyone eat with their hands. You know you’d be the coolest mom ever if you did….
Many families are in the habit of going around the table and asking for the best part and worst part of everyone’s day. Another idea is having a set of conversation topics in a little box, like they do at the American Girl Cafe. Each person pulls out a card and you discuss that topic together. Here’s a list of fun table games and conversation starters.
Thursday night is a great time to discuss weekend plans. Too often our weekends get frittered away, but when you have a few anchor events to look forward to, they’re often more rejuvenating.
What do your mealtimes look like? Do you have any tips you could share with me?