Family Meals with Teens

I’ve seen plenty of articles and blogs about family meals, their importance, and how to do them, but almost all of those articles focus on families with younger children. How do you keep up (or start) the tradition with teenagers? Here are some ideas for family dinners with teens. If you have more, please share them in the comments section!

Be Portable

Teens often have plenty of after-school activities. Find ways that you can bring the family along to share a meal and a little quality time on-the-go, such as:

  • Sandwiches, grapes, and carrot sticks shared picnic-style out of the trunk of your car before a game or between activities.
  • A crock-pot of chili brought along and eaten out of mini bags of Fritos — or just a bowl for a healthier option.
  • A full-scale tailgate during an extra-long day (my regional track meet comes to mind…).

Think Past Dinner

Fresh blueberries and granola
If it is too hard to gather the family at dinner time, try breakfast.

Breakfast, lunch, and snacks all provide opportunities to share a meal together. If family dinner isn’t possible due to work schedules, maybe breakfast would work better? Pancakes on the weekends, eggs and toast, making ahead and freezing waffles (no need to buy the ones from the store, though I do enjoy the blueberry ones from Trader Joe’s) — all provide an opportunity to sit down together around a meal. Many high schools now have occasional late-start days that provide an opportunity for an extended breakfast. If you can adjust your work schedule with advanced notice, try scheduling family time for those mornings!

Let the Kids Cook

You’ve made it past the years of utter dependence, so make the kids start pitching in! Teens will feel empowered if they can master one or two recipes as their “specialty.” Give them a night to be in charge and let them make dinner happen. Simple meal ideas that will (hopefully) not burn the house down include:

  • Pita bread/bagel/or English muffin pizzas
  • Breakfast for dinner
  • Tacos (assuming you trust them to chop toppings without hurting themselves)
  • Pasta and sauce — and for the advanced chef, adding sausage or meatballs

Invite Friends

Pick a meal that is extra special for your family or your son or daughter, and let your children invite their friends to join in. One of my friends spent a few years in England with her family, so they invited me over to share a traditional English dinner with them. Another friend’s Italian family made a big deal out of Polenta night (or should I say, Polenta all-day-affair) and invited several of us to come over and experience it. As children get older, they are becoming more aware of other cultures and traditions besides their own. This awareness might be your open door for meeting your children’s friends.

Dress it Up

My mom has a thing for fancy dishes, so when she told me to invite my friends over for lunch one day, they arrived to a table decked out with our nicest china. They thought it was “so cool” of my mom to go to that trouble — even the boys! I think that as teens, it felt really good to be treated with that kind of respect and thoughtfulness. Dressing up or using nice things tends to put people on their best behavior and lends significance to even simple meals. Use that to your advantage!