Family Time: Meal Time Conversation Starters

I have long been an advocate of regularly eating meals together as a family as a means of encouraging the positive eating habits of young children, and as the most effective way for them to learn socially acceptable behaviour and manners. What I had not thought about was the mental health benefits and I was interested to read the following on parenting educator Michael Grose’s website recently;

“The biggest single preventative factor for anxiety and depressive illnesses in young people is being in a family that has 5-6 shared meals together with the television and other communication devices off.” Read more here.

Michael goes on to say that while mental health professionals cannot be sure why this is so, that the most obvious reasoning relates to family members taking regular time to eat and talk together which allows parents to keep tabs on how their children are doing and children to grow up with the knowledge that they can talk to their family members about problems and concerns. Both of which are important at any age but particularly as children grow beyond the early childhood years.

We have made the effort to eat dinner together regularly as a family since Immy was small. It obviously cannot happen every night but for us dinner works better than any other meal, at least during the week. Dad 101 goes into work early so that he can leave with (just enough) time to be home for us to enjoy dinner together. For the longest time our dinnertime conversation often started with Immy asking, “How many meetings did you have today, Daddy?”  I think this originated from us often talking about Dad 101’s day at work first, as obviously Immy and I both knew what each other had got up too!  Since she has started kindy we have started to hear an awful lot more about Immy’s day which is something that I hope continues on as she grows.

Reflecting on the idea of meal time conversations, I asked friends of the Childhood 101 Facebook page to share their conversation starters for family meals. Here are their responses;

~ Karen, “We have a dinner microphone (pretend of course) and you have to take the microphone and talk about your day and what you did.”

~ Eliza, “My Dad used to always ask us ‘What did you learn today?’ and he wouldn’t accept cheap answers like ‘Nothing’!”

~ Tatum, “Mostly I’ll ask the kids in turn about the best thing in their day…with 4 of them around the table + us that’s usually enough of a conversation starter to last the whole meal :) we’ll springboard topics from there.”

~ Barbara, Gemma, Tammy, Leanne and Deb all suggested each sharing a high and low point of the day (or best and not so great), an idea I first saw portrayed and really liked in the Bruce Willis movie, The Story of Us.

~ Jess of Plump Birth Support, ” At dinner time I really try hard to tell my 3yo what it was that I enjoyed about him/doing with him during the day. It’s a good conversation starter and reaffirms for him that no matter how rushed or cranky I am, ultimately I adore him and it helps him to unpack some of his day so he doesn’t have to do all that processing when it’s sleep time (and thus take HOURS to fall asleep).”

~ Carole, “What did you enjoy about your day today?”

~ Money Smart Kidz, “How much does it cost? Electricity, to make a book, etc. We talk about the process which turns into a history lesson and financial literacy discussion.”

~ Michelle, “What’s everyones favorite word for the day? If you were a superhero what would your special power be?”

~ Kate, “What was something that made you smile today? and what 3 things are you thankful for today? There’s 6 of us too, it’s really inspiring and really makes you think.”

~ Jodi, “What’s the most interesting thing from your day?” and Cat, “What happened that was special in your day?”

How do you manage to find time to eat together as a family? Do you have a regular conversation starter that you use to get everyone sharing?

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  1. I’ve been pushing for family meal times in our household too, but at the moment, it just doesn’t seem to work with the time my husband gets home from work and with a little baby to deal with too. I get Grace to eat her dinner earlier now at the kitchen bench across from me where we chat together as I prepare dinner for us adults. I might try and start the ‘highs and lows’ with her as a nice way of reflecting on our day. I look forward to mealtimes together with us four when the girls get bigger.

    P.S I ordered that Shopping List game Immy has off Fishpond and it arrived today – Grace and I have just been playing it now and she loves it so thanks for putting me onto it! x

  2. Amanda Eastment says:

    I’m hanging out for this food aversion thing to go (a pregnancy thing) so we can get back to eating all together as a family. We really miss this time.

  3. We’re very lucky – we eat together at the table most nights. Usually the telly doesn’t go on until after the kids are in bed (if at all).

    We go around the table asking what was the favourite thing about their day. We can all find plenty to moan about but sometimes it’s good to find something positive about our day. It’s a great conversation starter – as usually the kids can’t stop at just one thing and it’s more open ended than “how was your day”.

  4. I should be the master of the art of conversation starters, but I’m not really. Perhaps we should get the cards out ;-) We normally eat together – and to do this, we eat fairly late (6.30-7.00), but lately conversation is really struggling. Hubby and I catch up a bit on the day’s events, we try to draw out the Munchkin with his day (but you need to have a lot of inside information to ask very specific questions), but mostly, we seem to spend the mealtime telling him to eat with his utensils or get back on his chair. Prep brain is proving to be a real problem!

  5. Great post and wonderful ideas for conversation staters. At Fussy Farm we usually fill Mr Fussy in on what the Darlings did for the day. I really make an effort to not spend the entire meal reminding The Fussy Eater to use her fork or to eat more quickly. I give short, sharp reminders about manners and go right back into conversation so that everything stays as pleasant as possible.
    I also make a point of taking a few minutes before they are tucked in bed to ask if there is anything worrying them. My 104yo Grandmother-in-law advised me to do this every night to ensure I have children who can express themselves and their feelings. I think it is some of the best advice I have ever received.

  6. My family likes to do Mad, Sad, and Glad. Tell one thing that made you mad, etc. The rule being that the mad and sad tale can’t be about another member of the family! If we forget to do this meal starter, the kids remember!

  7. I’m all about families connecting around the table. We’ve been doing since the first of our four children was born (and before as a couple!). He’s 26 and married now with their first little one and our daughter-in-law did a guest post on my blog yesterday about starting their own family mealtimes–with a 9 month old! So excited this is being passed on!

    We never had one question we asked, we had lots and still have great conversations. A friend of mine asked her school age kids “What did you hear today that you didn’t agree with?” What a great way to get their kids to think about what they heard in school, from friends, on TV, even in music, and learn to think about whether it is true or not. What a help dealing with advertising and peer pressure and so much more.

  8. Dinner time for me, is the best opportunity for bonding. The missus and I started this when our boys were young and we still do, now that the boys are hitting adulthood. It really depends whether parents want to make the effort to keep dinner conversations ‘alive’.

  9. Hi, Love this post. We ask “what was the favourite part of you day? “. Usually Master 2 starts off – with lots of guessing about what he is saying! Master almost 5 and Miss 7 have been doing “the whole entire day” answers, however i have recently told them that they need to tell me one thing from school and another part of the day.

  10. We have always eaten together as family. My kids love for us to play word games with them – you can start simple or get harder as kids get older. We do quizzes too – you’d be suprised sometimes at what your children know. There are plenty of easy ones for kids you can download, or just use then general knowledge ones in newspaper or magazines. You all end up learning something new too :)

  11. My dad asked the exact same question as Eliza’s, “What did you learn today?” That’s been so ingrained in me that I think I’ll do that too, but we’ll see. I just heard something interesting the other day from billionaire Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx. She said that her dad would ask, “What did you FAIL at today?” She would say something like, “I tried out for the basketball team and didn’t make it.” And then he would be excited and give her a high-5. This blew me away although I see the value in it. If we are so afraid to try new things because we may fail, we won’t get too far. I know that I’m personally afraid of failure. It’s definitely something to think about.

  12. This is such a great post, Christie. Learning the ‘art of conversation’ is such a key element in our development as a well-rounded individual.

    Our conversations always start with ‘best of, worst of, thing you’re looking forward to’ and spiral on from there. x

  13. I also loved the idea of a noisy dinner table… sharing the day’s journey. But conversation doesn’t always come without encouragement in our kids. So we always have a question or two up our sleeves. The most often is our highlight and lowlight for the day. At least then we all get to share a little of each others lives. One other thing that works well for us is just modelling the behaviour we want to see in our kids as they grow. So my hubbie and myself often start our own conversation and let the kids listen allowing them to join in if and when they’re ready. Great post and lots of great ideas.


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  2. […] Family Time: Meal Time Conversation Starters {Childhood 101} […]

  3. […] Family Time: Meal Time Conversation Starters  {Childhood 101 via Not Just Cute} My dad would ask us, “What did you learn today?”  That’s been so ingrained in me that I think I’ll do that too, but we’ll see.  I just heard something interesting the other day from billionaire Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx.  She said that her dad would ask, “What did you FAIL at today?”  She would say something like, “I tried out for the basketball team and didn’t make it.”  And then he would be excited and give her a high-5.  This blew me away although I see the value in it.  If we are so afraid to try new things because we may fail, we won’t get too far.  I know that I’m personally afraid of failure.  It certainly gives me a new perspective in asking questions at the dinner time.  In my head I’m trying out the phrase, “How did you improve your day/how did you make your day better?” […]

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