The Stress-Free Dinner Hour

4 Musts for a Relaxing Meal

Little girl eating dinner

  1. Turn off the TV. Put on music instead -- it sets a cozier mood. No one will talk to each other if everybody's glued to the tube. Also, watching TV during dinner encourages kids to overeat because they ignore their body's natural fullness cues.
  2. Ditch the piles. Staring at stacks of mail, newspapers, and other random stuff is stressful -- it's a reminder of everything you need to do. If you have time to put everything away before dinner, great; if not, move the stacks out of sight temporarily.
  3. Turn down the lights. If you don't have a dimmer switch, switch off the brightest lamps to lower the level of visual stimulation during the meal. "It give your senses a break after the bright lights of school and work and helps everyone feel calm and focused on each other," says Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management from the Inside Out.
  4. Share the day's highlights. Domar's family shares "News and Goods" every night: each person talks about something new and something good that happened to them that day. They feel closer -- and happier -- hearing about each other's best moments. When conversation dries up, try the family version of TableTopics (, a cube containing 135 fun and thought-provoking questions --- ranging from "Which TV show would you pick to live inside for a week?" to "What's your favorite family tradition?" -- that will get the whole family gabbing.

Get the Kids to Pitch In

Why tackle setup and cleanup by yourself? There are plenty of safe ways kids of all ages can help, says child psychologist Lawrence Balter, PhD, of New York University.

Little girl picking up dinner plates

  • Toddlers can carry forks and spoons to the table and pass nonbreakable items during dinner.
  • Preschoolers can fold napkins and set the table (handle sharp knives yourself, of course). Afterward, they can put dirty napkins in the trash.
  • School-age kids can pour drinks and bring butter, salad dressing, and other condiments to the table. After the meal, they can help clear the table and rinse items for the dishwasher.

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