Family, Kids & Relationships

‘The Family Dinner Project’ Shares New Ways To Connect at Thanksgiving Dinner

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Research has long shown that eating meals together as a family is linked to higher grades, resilience, and self-esteem in kids, while reducing the rates of alcohol or drug abuse, eating disorders, and depression. 

The Family Dinner Project, a nonprofit initiative to encourage the family connections made through meal sharing, has a new book out just in time for Thanksgiving. From how to handle picky eaters to what not to talk about at the table, specialists at The Family Dinner Project offer realistic tips and solutions for making the best use of valuable family time at dinner — and for many Americans, there’s no bigger family dinner event than Thanksgiving. Here are some of their expert tips for making this the best Thanksgiving yet. 

Have meaningful dinner conversation

Starting a dinner conversation sounds easy enough, but plenty of people get stuck trying to think of something to talk about that’s more interesting than, “How was your day?” and is likely to get more than a one-syllable response. It can get even more complicated at Thanksgiving, when the gathering might include more people of diverse backgrounds, a wide range of ages and interests, and potentially opposing views — which can lead to some guests becoming bored and disengaged, while others might get hurt or angry.

To create an environment that supports healthy, fun interactions, The Family Dinner Project offers the following suggestions:

  • Listen to understand, not to respond. It’s very common to think about what your response is going to be while someone’s still talking (especially if they’re saying something you don’t agree with). Instead, really listen to the words and emotions people share with you while they’re talking. 
  • Include everyone. Make sure everyone has a chance to suggest a game or topic of conversation. If anyone’s especially quiet, you might ask a question or offer a compliment to make sure they feel included.
  • Suggest a competition. To “keep the focus on the turkey, not the technology,” have everyone put their phones face down in the middle of the table during the meal. The first person to reach for theirs is in charge of dishes! 
  • Have topics at the ready. Whether there’s a lull in the chatter or you want to steer the discussion away from something heated, it’s nice to have a few topics in mind to spark fun, creative conversation. Try some of these suggestions from ParentsTogether’s collection:
For more fun questions from ParentsTogether that you can use at dinner (or any other time you want to spark conversations with kids), sign up here.

Bring a few games to the table

One challenge many families face on Thanksgiving (and really, at dinnertime on any night) is the temptation to turn to screens for distraction. To keep people busy and engaged while they wait for the turkey to cook or digest that extra slice of pumpkin pie, it’s great to have some unique game ideas at the ready — especially if they encourage interaction and learning new things about each other. Family Dinner Project has a ton of fun dinner games on their site; here are a few of our favorites:

  • Would You Rather is a great game you can play anywhere, anytime and it doesn’t require a thing. Would you rather be a dog or a cat? Would you rather eat dessert every morning or stay up past your bedtime every night? The questions are endless, and can be adjusted based on the ages of those playing — you can look here for some inspiration.
  • Two Truths and a Tall Tale is another easy one to try at the table. Each person at the table comes up with three things to share about themselves but only two are true, and it’s up to everyone else to figure out which one is not. It’s a great way to learn more about each other and have fun in the process!
  • Can You Remember? is a super simple game that you can play without any preparation. Close your eyes and share what you can remember. Who remembers what color shirt Grandma is wearing? What color are the kitchen walls? See who has the best memory. Spoiler alert: It’s usually the kids.
  • Gratefulness Grab Bag is particularly well-suited to Thanksgiving. Throughout the visit, everyone writes two things they’re grateful for (either silly or serious) on slips of paper and puts them in a bowl or jar. When you’re at the table, pass the bowl around and have people read slips they pull out randomly. For extra fun, you can guess who wrote each one.

Make a #GivingTuesday plan

Giving Tuesday is December 3 this year, so Thanksgiving Day is the perfect time to make a plan with your loved ones. Take the time on Thanksgiving to decide what you want to do, whether it’s calling a loved one who doesn’t get enough company or volunteering together in your community. Making a plan together will help make sure you all follow through. The Family Dinner Project has several helpful suggestions for family-friendly ways to give back.

Jessica Watson is a freelance writer, author and the blogger behind Four Plus an Angel. Mom to five kids, four in her arms and one in her heart, she tries hard to enjoy them every moment but sometimes dreams of a week alone with a pile of her favorite books. "Four Plus an Angel" -