Family Dinner Conversations

Conversations for Family Dinner Time

As I slowly make progress in Simplifying Home, Week 3: Kitchen + Dining has me thinking, again, about our diets.

The importance of eating healthfully comes and goes in my list of priorities. I'll care for a couple weeks at a time, and we'll make improvements consuming more greens and eating less cheese or reducing our excess sugar intake. We usually feel better, more energized, maybe even lose a pound or two.

Then, life happens. A stressful day at home ends with the options of eating frozen pizza or nothing at all, and I always opt for the artificial ingredient laden-whatever over my kids' empty bellies. Then one stressful day after another, mixed with the pickyness that returns on a packaged-foods diet puts us in a meal-time rut.

It makes meal-times stressful and piles on guilt to my already growing list of real or perceived failures as a parent. It ignites a string of self-defeat.

If I didn't ever buy the frozen or packaged options, then I'd have to cook healthy, homemade goodness. If I wasn't so selfish, maybe I wouldn't get so stressed out at home and would have more energy for meal prep. If I always cooked healthy meals, then my kids wouldn't be so picky and make meals so limiting. Stop talking about it and just do it already, Trina!

Some of it's true. We've found some tricks that help us eat healthier even on over-the-top crazy days. The less we buy "food-crack", the less we crave or rely on it. And I definitely have room for improvement in my mothering and home-making that would reduce my own whining and complaining.

However, this conversation I have with myself, on a pretty regular basis these days, comes to a different conclusion: Maybe diets don't matter as much as we lead on. At least not in the ways we initially assume.

Yes, there are obvious benefits to our health and well-being with better food choices. These habits grow and build over a lifetime. One donut won't kill us, but a habit of donut-eating can certainly do its damage. And poor health can keep us from fulfilling our potential in some pretty big ways.

Health is important and what we eat is important, but perhaps there are things even more important. Like our spiritual health. Our prayer and Bible-reading habits truly matter for our lifetime and beyond. Yet how much more do we obsess about food simply because we can see the numbers on our scale or on our jeans label? Numbers that, let's face it, mean absolutely nothing in the perspective of eternity.

Another thing more important than what we eat: Using our dining time for family conversations. Not rushing through another healthy, or unhealthy, meal, but simply slowing to hear each other. Sharing the conversations we always mean to, but never really have time to.

And that's what this post is really about.

Because these years, while the kids are young, are fleeting. I hear it all the time and I've mostly brushed it off. Until we had a third baby and I realized just how much our first is not a baby anymore. I had all of these intentions of what we'd teach her/them. I imagined the open ongoing conversations to prevent relying on one heavy talk to share everything they should know.

And here we are with a seven-year-old and rarely enough time for anything.

We've reclaimed some of that time during morning and afternoon commutes. And especially during mealtimes.

These are priceless moments of talking about what makes us feel loved, where we've seen God at work, and the little and big things that we love or hate about our days. It's these moments where we hear their evolving thoughts and opinions, share little bits of wisdom, and ever-so-slowly and as naturally as possible venture into otherwise uncomfortable topics.

In this important work as parents and on this holy ground of family time, it suddenly doesn't matter that we're having pizza... again. It matters that we're together and enjoying moments and conversations that we might otherwise never have. Moments that escape us when we don't sit our butts at the table and face each other as we stuff our faces.

What we serve for meals is important. Even more important is that we reclaim that time for our families.

Questions for Family Time

Whether the conversations are at the table over supper or in the car during commute, here are some questions and topics to start family-time conversations. Where they go from here varies on the day and what each person answers. But it always helps to have a starting point.

Daily Highs

This is usually the start of the conversation, and can be asked a variety of ways to get slightly different answers each time. Of course, just choose one way to ask it.

1. What was the highest part of your day?
2. What was your favorite part of the day?
3. What was the best thing that happened today?
4. What made you happy today?
5. What accomplishment are you proud of today?
6. What was easiest thing you did today?
7. What goal did you achieve today?
8. What are the positive things that happened today?
9. What is one good thing that happened today?
10. What did you love about today?

Daily Lows

Right after the highs of the day, comes an opportunity to share the lows. Again, there are a variety of ways to ask this to give slightly different answers. Mix up the way you ask it each day.

11. What was the lowest part of your day?
12. What was the most challenging part of today?
13. What was the hardest thing you did to today?
14. What was the worst part of today?
15. What is something you failed at today?
16. Where did you struggle today?
17. What goal did you not achieve today?
18. What are the negative things that happened today?
19. What is one bad thing that happened today?
20. What did you hate about today?

Seeing God at Work

This is a question topic we got from the authors of Sticky Faith. While the kids are still young, it helps for us parents to start with answering to give an example of what this even means. This might lead to sharing about answered prayers, a person we saw act Christ-like, a time when bad feelings were turned good, something that was read or learned. Knowing this topic will be talked about also gives motivation to really look for these little divine interventions throughout the day. This may get odd answers when they're young, but even our four-year-old pipes in with how he sees God at work in his life.

21. Where have you seen God working in your life?
22. What have you learned about God recently?
23. What prayers have you seen God answer lately and how?
24. Who have you seen act Christ-like? What did they do?
25. How has God helped you recently?
26. Where do you see God leading you?
27. Who do you see God calling you to love?
28. What message do you hear God telling you lately?
29. How is God transforming you?
30. What is strengthening your faith?


Sometimes we throw in an extra question or two that might be related to a current holiday, life-happening, or event. For Valentine's we talked about what makes us feel loved and unloved, and each shared what we love about each member of the family. The ideas here really are limitless, and can lead to some fun conversations and insights.

31. What makes you feel loved or unloved? Or proud or like a failure? Or happy or sad?
32. What do you love about each member of the family? Or your home? Or your school/teacher? Or your friends?
33. What has been your favorite family tradition? Or family vacation? Or family activity?
34. What do you wish we did more of at home or as a family?
35. If you were the parent, what rules would you choose for the family?
36. If you could spend the day any way you wanted, what would you do?
37. What is one thing you're really good at?
38. What do you really want to learn how to do?
39. Where would you most want to go for family vacation? Or live?
40. What is the best present you could receive?

Where Babies Come From

Just kidding. But our dinner table conversations have certainly turned there and to other normally not-so dinner-table-friendly topics. And we let them. Or sometimes we're even the ones asking odd questions. (Like about the worst words they know. Thank you, Jimmy Kimmel.)

We might give vague answers and say we'll share more about it later. Sometimes we go ahead and discuss. And we generally provide a disclaimer if a topic shouldn't be discussed with non-family members or isn't usually considered polite to talk about at the table. We're the parents, we can allow whatever we want. But I also want my kids to be conscious of what others might consider rude or disrespectful.

41. What's the worst word you know? What's the worst thing you've heard mom or dad say?
42. Is it ever okay to disobey an adult? When?
43. What do you know about...? (Fill in the blank about anything. Seeing what they already know on a topic is a good place to start in deciding where to take the conversation next.)
44. When has an adult (i.e., mom, dad, teacher) disappointed you?
45. Have you seen a friend do something bad? What did you do?
46. What would you do if...? (Fill in with various difficult scenarios like seeing a friend steal something or hearing a classmate say a cuss word. If they don't know then help them think of what to do.)
47. Should you always keep someone else's secret to yourself?
48. What makes a person good?
49. When have you done something right even though it was hard?
50. What do you wish someone told you more?

It should be noted that I tend to focus on depth and intensity, while Daniel offers a good balance of fun and light-heartedness. Not everything has to be so serious and heavy.

I hope our conversations eventually cover it all. I want our kids to feel open to talk to us and not get shut down all the time. Even if it's hard to hear their answers sometimes. These can also lay the foundation to make future, heavier topics more approachable and less awkward.

More on those in the future when we more directly cover that territory.

Until then, we'll be here keeping up our odd conversations while eating non-Pinnable meals. I realize it doesn't have to be healthy food or quality conversations. Still, as we focus on raising our kids in things that matter in eternity, making space for intentional family time will always win out.


also read:
the delicate balance of contentment
simplifying home: 8-week challenge
week 3: kitchen + dining
100 date night questions
simplicity starts here