Easy Ways to Make Family Meals Feel Special

Munching frozen pizza while gathered around the TV…eating burritos in the backseat of the mini-van…grabbing a hot dog at the game…

All families have times when a family meal involves convenience foods and eating on the go. The thought of eating dinner around the table at home can sound old-fashioned, boring or maybe even overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of easy ways to make family meals special without a ton of preparation or guilt.

Start with a simple plan and a specific goal. How about if you start with family dinner at home together at least twice per week? For some families this sounds ridiculous because they eat nearly every dinner together. But other families have circumstances and responsibilities in their lives that can make even two meals a challenge.

Second, plan for an easy home-cooked meal. Simple meals work best: casseroles, a taco bar, something from the crockpot or air fryer. Don’t feel like you have to cook a five-course meal or it’s not worth it. In fact, the food isn’t necessarily the most important part. Bring home takeout if you must, but it’s what happens at the table that matters.

Here’s what counts: family members gathering around a shared table, catching up, laughing, talking and eating together.

You can help set the stage for these special, everyday times with a few simple touches:

  • Tablecloth: This makes a big difference in atmosphere, believe it or not. Dishes and silverware are quieter on a cloth-draped table. It softens the appearance of the table. You can get a similar effect with place mats or a table runner. Get creative with the visual presentation, using color, prints and texture. Check the clearance aisle at a store for bargains. You can even use a twin sheet or even a quilt.
  • Something from nature: Even one flower from the yard in a vase adds something special to the table. Try mini-pumpkins in the Fall, a potted ivy in Spring, cut flowers in Summer. Even leaves and rocks can add visual interest.
  • Get the kids involved: Showcase a special Lego project or an arrangement of little cars. They will come up with some interesting ideas.
  • Candles: Now we’re talking atmosphere! Big, fat pillars, graceful tapers, round balls, tea lights, ceramic holders, crystal candlesticks—the more, the better. Candlelight calms little ones, creates a peaceful scene and says “special.” Even if you leave the lights on and serve a pot of chili, candles are a nice way to add a little extra zing to the table.
  • Have a “theme” meal: Mexican food with a bright tablecloth, Mexican music in the background, individual salsa dishes, tortilla chips in baskets. Italian food with a red checked cloth, candles in green bottles, and “Bella Notte” from Lady and the Tramp playing. Have some fun with it!
  • Occasionally pull out the nice dishes: If you don’t have special dishes or china, go to the dollar store and buy some fun new plates, enough place settings for your family. They are usually available to match the current season and it’s always fun to eat on new dishes. Or buy gorgeous paper plates and napkins! Places like Ross, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and HomeGoods usually have a selection of unusual paper goods.
  • Try new recipes, especially if you’re in a rut: A note of caution: start small. Don’t make an all-new recipe with questionable ingredients as the main dish with little else to eat. Don’t force new foods or have an attitude of “you’ll eat it or else.” Nothing spoils a family meal faster than harshness or forced eating.

Children love it when “we always.” We always use the red checked tablecloth when we have chili, we always have this on Fridays, we always surprise Daddy with candles. It gives them a nice feeling of childhood security that they’ll look back on with fondness.

Above all, keep it simple and doable. Having family meals together is truly important, but not at the expense of stressing out Mom. Just remember that going the second mile is where the fun begins. It doesn’t take much more effort to spread a cloth and light a candle than it does to throw plates on a bare table, but the payoff is enormous. Here’s a story from our family when this happened: The Magic of Ordinary Days

You don’t have to have children at home to make meals special. Even if you’re eating alone you can choose the prettiest glass and light a candle. Nurture your own need for beauty—it’s food for the soul.

Try a little extra effort this week to make a family meal or two “special” and see the difference it can make!


  1. I love all of these ideas . . . and have used most of them. We generally eat together as a family around the table . . . but wow those smart phones have stolen some of that great family time! (Mom is just as guilty as the kids!) I wonder what happened to the No Texting at the Table rule???? (Perhaps I was the first one to break it?!) 😉

    With 3 kids playing basketball, nearly every night in Januray and February involves basketball games!! Makes it hard for me to even COOK dinner, let alone eat it as a family! I’ll be a bit glad when basketball season is over! 🙂 Maybe I should go where the ball bounces and create a “lovely” basketball centerpiece?? 🙂

    Thanks for the encouragement to make life beautiful everyday!


    1. Charlotte Siems says:

      Ha! I love the idea of a basketball centerpiece! You’d use that one a lot! 🙂

  2. Through the years I did most of these ideas, but now the children are gone. With one adult child home with my husband and me, it is hard to motivate myself to add the special touches and when I do no one notices or cares. Any ideas from you or your readers for an attitude adjustment or perk me up? I miss the fun of the little ones. Empty nest is lonely.

    1. Charlotte Siems says:

      You, your husband, and your adult child are worth fixing up the table for. YOU alone are worth lighting a candle and using the pretty dishes. Let it cheer you up, even if no one notices. Buy yourself some flowers and set a pretty table. Life is too short to live ugly. 🙂

  3. Thank you for these ideas! We love tablecloths at our house but now I am encouraged to try some other center pieces as well.

    One thing our family has learned is that breakfast works better for us than dinner. Everyone is home first thing in the morning … even on busy days. We have dinner with whoever is home but breakfast has become our best time together. We work to make it a special time as well. We typically set the table the night before. We make 2 pots of tea and some coffee and a simple breakfast – frequently scrambled eggs becsuse you can make a large batch fast and you can easily add leftovers or veggies to them for a bit of variety.

    Thanks for your tips and encouragement!

    1. Charlotte Siems says:

      Great idea to do breakfast together! Which meal isn’t important, the time together at the table is important. Awesome ideas!

  4. Pat Schaeffer says:

    Charlotte, I appreciate you just so much that I could hug you if you were here in Maine! The snow is melting & green little sprouts survived our harshest Winter in years but God’s Sonshine and beautiful Sunshine has warmed homes, hearts and melted the snow that gave moisture for fruits in the Summer. Family meals are so important & are almost lost in the days we live. My husband & I enjoy them together and even more, when we sit with our daughter & son in law in their home with our 5 grandchildren! What a treat and gift that is! This is Easter that I’m writing this & we had a simple meal but enjoyed it as much as a large meal. As we age, we know what needs are most important and do our best to see that they are honored. Hopefully we’ll keep learning as we get past 65! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your ministry!

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