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Research shows that having regular family meals is connected to higher grade-point averages, resilience and confidence, better reading skills and better physical health. And family dinners don't have to be stressful. They can be affordable, they can be easy to put together, and they can even be fun.
Anne Fishel is the director of The Family and Couples Therapy Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-founder of The Family Dinner Project. She's also the author of "Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids."
Fishel says that playing games can be an effective way to extend your time at the table.
"I prefer games that spur conversation, don't involve any boards, dice or screens, and that don't require any score-keeping," she says.
Here are five of her favorite dinner games:
The Memory Game: Each person thinks of an event that took place when everyone was present. Then other family members ask yes/no questions to try to guess the memory. Did this happen when someone was sick? At a holiday meal? On vacation? Was someone giggling, crying, or yelling? Whoever guesses correctly, goes next. "This game is like a verbal album of memories that can help families hold on to events and experiences," she says. "It's also interesting to find out what memories are top of the mind for your kids."
The Hat Game: Think up some unusual questions with revealing answers. For example: What book most changed your life? Or what character in a children's book do you most identify with? What character in a movie would you like as a friend? What is your internal age?
Each person writes down the answer to one or more questions on a slip of paper (anonymously) and puts it in a hat. Then someone draws the slips out one by one, and everyone tries to guess which answers go with which person. "Some of these questions can lead to interesting and surprising conversations," Fishel says. "This game is particularly fun with a larger group."
Rose, Thorn, and Bud: This is a game that works for all ages. Each family member describes something positive or funny (the rose of the day), something negative or difficult (the thorn), and something they hope will happen tomorrow (the bud). Fishel says that she likes "the way this game puts everyone on the same level and offers an alternative to asking, 'How was your day?'"
Two Truths and A Lie: Each person comes up with two factual statements about the day and one that is a fiction. Then everyone has to guess which item has been made up. "Like the previous game, this offers another way to find out how everyone's day went," she says.
Fruits and Vegetables: One family member (the "leader" of a round) thinks of a person known by everyone else at the table. Then others around the table ask the leader metaphorical questions to try to guess who this person is. For example, "If this person were a vegetable, what vegetable would he or she be?" or, "If he or she were a fruit, an animal, a color, a type of weather, which would he or she be?"
Once the leader shares a few categories, everyone else tries to guess the person who is being described metaphorically. The player who guesses correctly gets to think up the next person.
"This game can be a springboard to talk about how a person can be experienced differently," says Fishel.