Among the many joys of speaking to PTAs, PTOs, and other parent groups around the country is the chance to hear YOUR ideas for "no regrets parenting" (which also just happens to be the title and topic of my book!).
At a recent talk, I had just gotten to the "Taco Night" part of my presentation: Pick one night a week for a theme dinner to add a little pizzazz to family mealtime. Kids love to go out to eat, and may be more animated and engaged in a restaurant than they are at home. But you don't need to go to restaurants to experience fun venues and interesting menus. Turn your kitchen into a Japanese sushi bar or an Italian bistro once a week -- or do both on different nights. Your kids will be even more excited about sitting down together if they have their favorite foods on a regular basis. And when kids are excited, they are energized in their conversation and in sharing news at the dinner table.
Whether it's Pizza Night, Chinese Night, Fancy-Egg Night, or Pancake Night, special dinner nights are also unique opportunities to increase kids' involvement in the meal-making and increase the quality time you spend with them. Plus, recurring themes help kids assume bigger roles in getting the food to the table; they'll start to remember the food-preparation steps from previous theme nights. Washing the vegetables, stacking the tortillas, mixing the salsa, and gossiping about the latest news from school make for the perfect family evening. (Of course, you're still in charge of blending the margaritas!) This is what "no regrets parenting" is all about -- capturing more minutes with your kids and turning those minutes into moments to remember.
I was ready to move onto the next part of my talk when the "magic of PTA" happened, the kind of magic that comes from an auditorium filled with motivated and invested parents. A mom raised her hand and asked: "Can I share one of our special dinner nights? At least once a month, my 4-year-old daughter asks if we can have Fun Dippity Do Night." She went on to translate: Fondue Night! Her 4-year-old is in charge of tearing the bread. I was so taken with the idea, I repeated it twice for everyone to hear. Other great ideas I have received from other PTA audiences include family candlelight dinners, breakfast-for-dinner nights, backyard-picnic dinners, and movie-and-meal nights, where you combine family movie night with a movie-theme dinner (think: My Big, Fat Greek Wedding, Ratatouille, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, etc.).
But remember: While the food makes all of the theme dinners more fun, what matters most are the company, conversation, and laughter with everyone in the family. Bon appétit!
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).
Image: Plate with tacos and fresh tomatoes via Shutterstock.