With my eldest son turning 9 in a few days it’s got me reflecting on where the time has gone. It seems hard to believe that he will be starting secondary school in just two years time! In fact both my boys are really starting to grow up now,  and we have gone from a madhouse of toddlers to big boys in no time!

Changing to secondary school is one of the big milestones in the relationship between parent and child. Suddenly as well as the practical aspect of parenting that you always have when they’re little (anyone else not miss nappies?), you also have a more emotional side.

Although they’re still young by ‘big school’ standards, you start to hear about cliques forming, new subjects they’re studying, and friends whose parents you’ve never met – a big change from chatting in the playground waiting for them to come running towards you.

While our school routine may have changed, the one thing we didn’t want to lose is family dinnertime. If anything, it’s become even more important to sit down as a family and hear about what’s going on now that the boys are gradually becoming more independent.

But everyone with kids knows that the chaos of dinner rarely represents the picture-perfect family meals that you see on TV adverts – especially when kids are younger! Everyone’s normal is different – that’s why I loved these family portraits and it’s great to see real families taking the spotlight on TV for once!

Whatever your family’s normal – whether it’s an early tea or a late-night supper – here’s a few tried-and-tested ideas for carving out that special bit of time at the end of the day to eat together.

Set a Fixed Time

Making sure everyone is actually available at the same time is the obvious first step to making family dinner work! If the whole family knows roughly when to expect dinner, you’ll (hopefully) have fewer arguments about leaving the Xbox or TV to come and sit at the table.

Try setting time on a weekly rather than permanent basis. That way, if there are any special events like an extra after-school activity, you can pick a time that works best for that particular week.

New Recipe Day

Keep everyone looking forward to dinner time by experimenting with a new recipe every week or every other week if things are busy. You could also make this a Saturday or Sunday evening to give yourself more prep time.

Use it as an opportunity to get your kids thinking about and engaged with what they’re eating by having them find a recipe. Not only will they be more excited about that meal, they’ll also appreciate what goes into making dinner a bit more.

Get Everyone Involved

If you’ve helped prepare something, you’re automatically more interested in getting stuck in to it! Being able to cook for yourself is a great life skill, and the younger they are when they start getting familiar with the kitchen, the more comfortable they’ll be cooking for themselves in the future.

If your kids are too young to be in the kitchen, find other jobs that can be their responsibility. It could be setting the table, getting everyone a glass of water, or even rounding everyone up when you’re about to serve.

Ask Open Questions

Is it me, or is the quietest time of the day when you put food on the table and everyone tucks in? Once the initial food rush is over, ask them about their day or even things going on in the world if they’re a bit older.

If things are getting too monosyllabic, ask for their help or opinion on something. It’s a good way of showing that you’re starting to see them as more of a grown-up – and they’ll want to respond.  

Live in the Moment

There are lots of changes when you’re parenting tweens, and they seem to grow up especially quickly at this age. Some days you’ll see flashes of their primary-school self that wants to be silly and joke around; in others, it’s the grunts and nods of a teenager in the making!

Whatever the mood that day, try and take a second to appreciate having managed to sit down and share a meal as a family and the special people that includes for you.

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