Dinnertime with my 12- and 13-year-old boys is largely fun. Of course there are evenings when they are distracted by looming homework, in a rush to get to sports practice or eager to leave the table to check their Instagram feed, but overall, it is pleasurable to sit down at the end of a day to discuss the events that are on their minds. Unfortunately, dinner with my 5-year-old daughter does not always run as smoothly.
She is almost eight years younger than her brothers, so it’s no wonder she gets bored with our exchanges. Some nights, she gets restless in her chair because we take much longer to eat than she does; on other nights, she refuses to eat at all. My guess is this move is to get our attention. Smart girl — it works.
So in an attempt to make dinner fun again, I (with the boys’ help) have fired up some table games, geared toward teaching her about healthy eating. Why not kill two birds with one stone? The games draw her into the family’s conversation and get her to eat (yes, the healthy foods, too). She doesn’t even mind when we fit a more grown-up conversation in between games of artichoke basketball, especially if she is winning.
Here are some of my favorite table games that teach elementary-age kids about healthy eating and make dinner fun:
●Count how many colors each person has eaten that day (sorry kids, food dyes do not count!).
●Guess the ingredients (teriyaki chicken stumped everyone).
●Which is healthier?
● Artichoke basketball: Throw eaten artichoke leaves into a bowl in the middle of the table. This is a crowd pleaser.
●What is your favorite fruit, vegetable, dinner, breakfast, ice cream . . . ?
●What food am I? (Think 20 Questions, Food Edition)
●One person chooses a category such as fruit or proteins, and everyone names an item in that category until people get stumped and drop out.
●Name every food that begins with the letter A, then B, C and on down the alphabet.
●Tell a story about dinner: Could a bowl of yellow split pea soup be a bowl of melted gold for your pirate? Could a tortilla carry its ingredients like a magic carpet?
●Develop fun names for the foods on your plate: Fancy Nancy Parfait (yogurt, granola, fruit), Pirate’s Jewels (colorful fruit salad), Fairy Pasta (quinoa or millet tossed with butter or olive oil so it glistens), Gold Coins (banana slices with nut butter), etc.
●Calculate how many miles your dinner had to travel to get to you.
●Pretend you are growing by stretching as you eat each healthy item, or flex your muscles to show body parts getting stronger as you eat healthy food.
●Pretend the food and nutrients are traveling through your body, and tickle as they go down. (This one is best to be played at the end of dinner.)
First published in the Washington Post on October 13, 2016.