Five Ideas to Simplify Traditional Family Meals with Toddlers + Preschoolers


Most Friday evenings, our family gathers around our large table to enjoy our borrowed tradition of Shabbat, the formal finish of a week of work and the beginning of a day of rest (Sabbath). We are in our third year of practicing this ritual, and our entire family loves it. There are weeks it is more casual with less detail, and other weeks where everything seems to fall into the right place. Regardless, the intentional breaking of bread together, the intentional choice to leave our work behind is special, and one I encourage all families to adapt to their own ethos and begin early in their homes.

I know many of you have messaged me or left comments, longing for a beautiful weekly family meal, but feeling the impossibility with young children and babies in the mix. I encourage you, your children will be such a help to this practice as they grow older––but you do not need to wait to begin. Adapting and simplifying the experience and decor is the most important part with toddlers and preschoolers in the mix. And for those who are curious to begin, here is are a few ideas to keep the younger family table approachable and appropriate for your littles.

Keep Tea Light Candles + Votives Stocked / Rolling beeswax candles is a favorite cold-weather practice here, but sometimes having top-heavy tapers on the table with toddlers feels can feel like a potential fire hazard. Instead keep some beeswax tea lights on hand to slip into votive jars. These last up to 9 hours. Or if you have candle remnants or local beeswax to use, try filling these molds and wicks for a winter craft.

Set Bamboo Tableware / Since families with littles might not have extra hands for clean-up, or may have even less hands available for clean-up because of post-dinner bedtime routines, consider having some pretty, compostable or eco-friendly tableware on hand for this regular meal. Although a bit pricey, we used these compostable plates for a large holiday meal we hosted in December to ease clean-up. We also keep this compostable flatware on hand for the same reason, and they’re gentle enough for use with smaller children, although maybe a little small for adults. Wink.

Add a Light-hearted Game / Have a small weekly game each week that your home would enjoy, and that your littles can look forward too. Perhaps it’s finding something hidden around the room before you sit down, or some stickers or a fresh coloring sheet underneath their plate. Training our children to sit an enjoy dinner can be challenging, but finding a way to encourage excitement and longer attention spans is helpful.

Prepare a One-Dish Meal / Even now, with older children in the mix, the more dishes that are begin juggled, the more attention is needed. Focus on one-dish meals to begin, such as a homemade (or frozen) lasagna, roasted meat and vegetables, a hearty soup. Our personal favorite is the Zuni Sheet Pan Chicken from this favorite recipe book. I purchase a pre-chopped whole chicken to save time, or use led quarters to save money and time. Wink. It feels like a lot of steps the first few times you make it, but it becomes easier with practice. Plus, your kitchen will smell divine.

Invite Your Littles to Help / Toddlers and preschool children love to help! Begin incorporating them now, whether creating name cards or helping set the table or put flowers in a vase. Invite them into the experience of preparation and clean-up.

Skip the Tablecloth, Use a Table Runner / Reducing table linens also helps ease clean-up, and can avoid the fire hazard or spilled drinks that might come with tugging on a tablecloth. Instead, opt for a table runner, or even consider using a black or white kraft paper for kids to enjoy coloring on during the meal.

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    1. Author

      I’m so glad to hear it, Renee! The little things really do accumulate over time.

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  2. I love these ideas. Thank you for encouraging us who are in the trenches with littles! So often the message I hear is just to give up for now and wait until the kids are older… but I appreciate being encouraged to pursue life giving things, even when there’s a little extra work involved. ❤️

    1. Author

      It’s such a worthy endeavor, Kira. Plus, it cultivates habits for the future, too. xx

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