Stop Food Battles & Make Family Meals Fun by Stealing These Moms' Ideas

Family dinnerWhen I was growing up, my family always ate dinner together -- no exceptions. My parents were pretty strict in that nobody left the table until dinner was over and there was no snacking afterwards. Period. The kitchen was closed. It wasn't that family dinner was supposed to be fun or quality time. It was just the rule, like it or not. 

Now that I'm the parent, I'm trying to find a balance between family dinner as a rule and family dinner as quality time that's actually fun. This is partially because I have picky eaters and I don't want dinner to consist of power struggles and tears. 

What I really want is family dinners that are lively and promote both good conversation and good eating habits. This is why I love some of the ideas moms shared. These families have found ways to make the dinner table into a creative space and encourage kids to eat and enjoy. Read on for how real families are making dinner fun and getting their picky eaters to dig in!

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  • Create a Make-Believe Restaurant

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    "So, this is weird but awesome. My 5-year-old LOVES to play waiter. I make and plate dinner in the kitchen and have the rest of the family sit down. He brings a plate out for everyone and then has to tell them all 'the specials' for the night. There is something about the fact that he is in charge of getting the food to the table that makes him more likely to actually eat it himself. We all play along that he is the waiter and my husband even tips him in Monopoly money." -- Theresa D., San Jose, California

  • Listen to a Story

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    "One of the things I've noticed is that the longer my kids sit at the table, the more of their dinner they actually eat. More dinner means less begging for snacks later on. We encourage them to linger at the table by playing an audio book. We're halfway through Harry Potter right now and the whole family is into it." -- Joanna F., Seattle, Washington

  • Enlist a Helper

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    "I have one picky eater and one non-picky eater. Our game, I guess you'd call it that, is that the picky eater has to help feed the non-picky one. Sometimes picking up the food and helping him eat it makes her more willing to try. Sometimes he hams it up and pretends to hate something he usually likes so she has to 'talk him into it' and he'll pretend he won't try it unless she does first." -- Melanie W., Rochester, Minnesota 

  • Turn It into Game Night

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    "We play board games at the table and give the kids snacky things to eat so they can play while they eat. Grapes, baby carrots, ants on a log, that kind of thing -- healthy but also snacky and fun." -- Jamie C., Vail, Arizona 

    More from CafeMom: A Celebrity Mom's 9 Tricks to Making Family Dinners Worth All the Fuss

  • ... Or Play Word Games

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    "We like to play word games while having dinner. We'll choose a topic, like vegetables, and go around the table having to name as many veggies as we can think of. Or we try to list as many foods that start with 's' as possible. It's fun but it also distracts from battles about how many bites people have to eat." -- Laurie M, Phoenix, Arizona

  • Do the Dip

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    "It isn't really a game, but I've found that my kids will eat a lot more if there are dips available. Every night I put out three to four dips, like hummus, ketchup, ranch dressing, and spinach/artichoke dip, and they can dip whatever they want in there. They will sometimes try to dip things in a way that I think is gross (like green beans into ketchup) and I'll act grossed out so they'll keep doing it to try to up the ante. I've seen them dip hot dogs into hummus and bean dip just trying to get a reaction. I'll call that a win for me!" -- Nika E., Brooklyn, New York

  • Play With the Scale

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    "My kids are kind of obsessed with my food scale (random, right?) and so they like to try to guess how much food will weigh. We've made it a thing that they can choose their portions for dinner by requesting a weight first and then they can weigh and measure it. So instead of 'two bites of peas' they'll say 'I'm only going to have one ounce of peas.' They almost always end up eating more that way." -- Janice K., Holland, Michigan

  • Give Kids a Duty

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    "Not really a dinner time thing, but I always have my pickier eater be my sous chef. She helps me read the recipes and prep the sides. At dinner time, she gets to explain what we are eating and takes some pride in cooking it." -- Yasmine E., El Cerito, California 

  • Play Ball

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    "My kids earn fuzzy balls ('warm fuzzies') for good behavior. When they do something kind or nice or show good manners, they get one in their jar. Once the jar is full we do something special as a family. They can also lose fuzzy balls for rudeness and bad manners. 

    Sometimes I'll announce that dinner is a double or triple fuzzy period. So any good behavior is extra rewarded and any rude manners (including saying bad things about my cooking) cost more than usual. They are extra on the ball about good manners, including trying new foods." -- Alyce C., Pella, Iowa

  • Build Your Own

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    "My kids love any meal that requires assembly. So we do taco bars and baked potatoes with toppings. We'll hold contests for the most toppings on one taco or the best flavor combination (we all have to try a bite off a plate and vote). It is messy sometimes but fun." -- Wren D., Houston, Texas

  • Make It Reading Time

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    "My kid is a picky bookworm. Books at the table equals eating at the table. If it's a game, I'm winning!" -- Omani C., Maplewood, Minnesota

    More from CafeMom: 10 Duggar Family Favorite Recipes

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