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Recipes for Starting Conversation with Your Family at the Dinner Table

By: Darcie Lusk on October 25th, 2018

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Recipes for Starting Conversation with Your Family at the Dinner Table

I love family meal time. I love it when schedules allow the whole family to be at the dinner table at the same time, enjoying favorite foods, and having great conversations that continue long after the last spoonful of chicken pot pie has been claimed. I love it the most when the conversations happen spontaneously, and we have to follow a backwards trail to figure out how the topic ended up here. And, of course, plenty of inside jokes and family stories make it even better.

But, sometimes meal time is, well, quiet. A long day at work, a hard practice on the field, or an impending stressful assignment can keep lively banter at bay. But family conversation is often the perfect recipe for those tough, exhausting days. So, how can we encourage that stimulating, therapeutic dialogue when our family members seem reserved at the table?

Great question. My children tend to be fairly quiet anyway, so add in a hard day at practice or some school-related stress, and evening conversation can be almost non-existent. Would an “ice-breaker” topic help? Sometimes, with some kids. But not always. So what was the solution? I didn’t want dinnertime to turn into a question and answer session as I came up with ice-breaker after ice-breaker. 

For conversation to actually take place, I knew that the topics would have to be meaningful to us. Instead of being prepared with a set of random conversation-starting questions, I focused on categories that I could tailor to our specific interests and experiences. I came up with four conversation categories that seemed best suited to our family. They included “Interests,” “Favorites,” “Memory Lane,” and “Would You Rather.” Each category contained the option of silly, serious, or sentimental themes.

For example, if it seemed like an appropriate evening to talk about “Interests” in a lighthearted way, I might ask a “silly” question like, “What is the funniest thing that has happened at Cross Country practice this season?” Stories about getting lost on the trails, being startled by a lady walking her dogs, or losing a tennis shoe in the mud are sure to follow. Soon, tales from swim practice, dirt bike races, babysitting experiences, or music recitals get included, and the conversation becomes the perfect complement to our evening meal.

Here are some “Conversation Recipe” ideas to try at your next family dinner.


Conversation Ideas about “Interests”

  • Silly Conversations: Describe the funniest practice, recital, event, performance, or hobby mishap.
  • Serious Conversations: Discuss goals and motivations for interests in sports, music, hobbies, part-time jobs, or academics.
  • Sentimental Conversations: Recall past successes, times when teammates helped one another, or coaches, mentors, or teachers that inspire you.

Conversation Ideas about “Favorites”

  • Silly Conversations: Share favorite funny movie lines, favorite combinations of unusual foods, or a favorite group dance to participate in at a wedding reception.
  • Serious Conversations: Share a favorite job experience, a favorite school experience, or a favorite volunteer experience.
  • Sentimental Conversations: Share favorite birthday memories, favorite family traditions, or favorite traits about each family member.

“Memory Lane” Conversation Ideas

  • Silly Conversations: Recall memories from toddler-hood including funny expressions, pretend games, and fashion faux-pas (looking at an old picture or two helps with this category!).
  • Serious Conversations: Recall memories of life’s lessons learned.
  • Sentimental Conversations: Recall fond memories of relatives, holidays, and seasonal events.

“Would you Rather” Conversation Ideas

  • Silly Conversations: Ask “Would you Rather” questions with an imaginative ending, like, “Would you rather be a turtle or a bumble bee?”
  • Serious Conversations: Ask “Would you Rather” questions with life goals in mind, like, “Would you rather be a nurse or a doctor? Why?”
  • Sentimental Conversations: Ask “Would you Rather” questions with feelings in mind, like, “Would you rather be surprised on your birthday or plan the day yourself?”

For flavorful mealtime conversation, adjust the category topics to suit your family’s taste, and then add your own questions for dozens of dinner table discussions!

Darcie Lusk is a former PA Virtual parent and currently works at the school as a Parent Ambassador Coordinator. PA Virtual is a public cyber charter school serving students across the state of Pennsylvania. PA Virtual is still enrolling for this school year. If you would like to receive more information about our school, click the button below.

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