4 Easy Things to Do Tonight to Make Dinnertime Less Stressful

After a long day (or even a short one), the last thing you want is a difficult evening.

Parker Barry

Laughing and telling stories about the day, Mom cuts the vegetables while Dad puts pasta on to boil and the kids set the table — one putting out napkins and flatware while the other fills water glasses. During dinner, the oldest compliments Dad’s new recipe and the youngest reports the day’s playground escapades. Family dinners are so dreamy!

Or in reality, maybe that whole scenario is just a dream.

The reality is that dinnertime is the witching hour of parenting. Younger kids seem to be at their neediest — second only to when you’re in the bathroom — when you’re trying to cook dinner. Older kids are at their busiest, running in from activities and trying to get homework done. Parents may have just spent an hour in traffic or be thinking about their own uncompleted to-do list while trying to help with homework, sign forms and get dinner on the table.

Dinnertime is stressful.

Play relieves stress, though, so try incorporating it into your dinner routine.

  • 1. Make it a celebration! Who says you have to be your normal old self during family dinner? Pretend you’re the royal family, enjoying high tea, putting on your fanciest manners. Or play up a theme for the night. If you’re having Italian food, speak with Italian accents. You may not be able to stay in character for the entire meal, but you’ll have a few good laughs to lighten the stress.
  • 2. Let kids play restaurant. As you prepare the meal, they can be your assistants, setting the table or acting as sous chefs. They can bring plated food as if they were restaurant servers or call your number to come get your food, a la counter service.
  • 3. Take turns being reporters, interviewing one another about your days, while you eat.
  • Create a story together. Going around the table, one person starts a story and then stops after a moment. The next person picks up where the story left off, adding to it, and so on.

Above all, go easy on your expectations. Try to relax and enjoy the time together. Being playful won’t make your kid try everything on her plate or prevent anything from getting spilled, but it’ll lighten the mood and take the focus off what’s not going perfectly. And if it doesn’t go even remotely well, no worries! You’ll get another chance tomorrow to make it a little better.


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