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Weeknights for many families means football practice, swimming or theater until late at night. The kids will come back home exhausted and hungry, ready to go to their rooms to do homework and text their friends. Where does a sit-down family mealtime and home cooked dinners factor into these hectic schedules (including your own)? Is this still a possibility in this day and age? 

Well, it should be! Licensed Professional Counselor Jennifer Palermo of Southwest Psychotherapy Associates says that in today's society, basic needs like eating and sleeping have been made almost an afterthought to make way for other things. 

"We put off eating in order to do these other things, but in the end, it’s eating that we need more than being able to play football or play the piano, or do math," says Palermo. "Because if we don’t nurture our bodies and keep ourselves healthy, none of that really matters." 

With a few steps, you can make dinner time your family's favorite bonding experience and the dinner table a "secure base" that everyone returns to.

"Over time and with consistency, the dinner table becomes a safe place where your kids feel like they can share ideas and themselves and feel seen and heard." - Jennifer Palermo

Palermo says, "Over time and with consistency, the dinner table becomes a safe place where your kids feel like they can share ideas and themselves and feel seen and heard." And with these easy ideasyou can put delicious rich flavors on the table that'll keep everyone lingering long after the meal is finished.

Don't worry, that doesn't mean you're expected to spend hours you don't have toiling in the kitchen on weeknights! Here are a few ways to add some extra fun during mealtime by making it interactive and giving each family member a role. We have even included some conversation starters that'll make dinner time a part of the day your kids look forward to.

16689-making-dinnertime-family-fun-time-infographic1. Build Your Own Meal

For nights when you're really pressed for time, make everyone plate their own dish, something like spaghetti and meatballs is perfect. It lets everyone take control of how much pasta, grated cheese or meatballs he or she wants. The more control kids feel over their plates the more they are willing to eat.

2. Daily Quiz

Take a night and mix dinner and games together. Fix something easy to cook and easy to eat (think handheld food like wraps or sandwiches) and grab a game like cards or even something easy like 20-questions.

3. Meal Surprise

Make one meal a week with a 'meal surprise. This is really easy and fun with something like spaghetti and meatballs, as you can add extra fun toppings like deep fried eggplant (trust us, it's delicious),  or a side of garlicky breadsticks or cheesy cauliflower. Changing things up but still making something familiar makes it easier to get kids to try new things.

4. Surprise Sweets

Speaking of surprises, your whole family will love a special dessert each week for after your comfort dish. Make it a fun project by pairing different parents with kids to concoct a surprise dessert so kids get that one-on-one time with a parent. 

The best way to get the family excited about coming to the dinner table is to make it something special whether that means playing games or just spending time cooking with your kids.

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