5 family-friendly Friday nights

 
 

When you are a parent, the term "TGIF" takes on a whole new meaning. In your pre-kid days, Friday nights were likely spent out on the town with friends. After all, back then you could sleep in on Saturday mornings.

Once kids enter the picture, Friday nights are less about late-night parties and more about end-of-the-week exhaustion. By the time Friday evening rolls around, most families are ready for a break from the busy weekday routine.

Jen Dixon, a Chicago mom of two, instituted "family nights" on Friday evenings and it has become a treasured weekly ritual.

"When we announced that we were going to be devoting Friday nights to family time, my girls were thrilled," Dixon says.

Family Friday Nights aren't just a good idea for kids-all members of the family will have fun.

"This time allows me to be 100 percent present for my girls," Dixon says. "I love the funny stories they tell about their week and I've also re-learned how to play many of the childhood games I loved. I look forward to it as much as they do."

Sometimes take-out pizza and any old movie will do when it comes to Family Friday Nights. However, if you are in the mood to create a themed night of food and activities, click through the recipe and activity suggestions below to inspire your planning.

All recipes courtesy of Melissa Graham, founding executive director of Purple Asparagus (purpleasparagus.org) and the author of Little Locavores (littlelocavores.blogspot.com).

 
 

Backwards Night - Meatloaf Cupcakes

Kick off your "backwards" Family Friday Night by climbing into pajamas, brushing teeth and getting ready for bed. Then, let the backwards fun begin by unleashing some unexpected surprises on your unsuspecting family.

What to eat: Surprise your kids by serving "dessert" for dinner. Dig out your muffin tin and create meatloaf "cupcakes" with mashed potato "frosting."

What to do: Mix things up with fun and unexpected new takes on classic games. For example, instead of playing charades, play "reverse charades" where the entire team acts out as many words as they can in 60 seconds while one person guesses. Put a similar spin on other favorites such as hide-and-go seek (one person hides and everyone else seeks) or pin the donkey on the tail. Write your names backwards on nametags and see who can make it the whole night without slipping up and using someone's real name. Pass out coloring pages and instruct everyone to color only outside the lines-using their feet instead of their hands. Write "secret codes" and decipher them by holding up to a mirror. Don't be afraid to get silly!

 
 

Beach Party - Tuna Boat

Chicago winter weather is definitely not bathing suit-appropriate, but you can use Family Friday Night as an excuse to pretend that you are beach-bound. Spread out a beach blanket on the family room floor and let the fun begin. You could even throw on your bathing suits and blow up some beach balls for added authenticity.

What to eat: Put a little sea in your food, plus some healthy vitamins and minerals.

What to do: Get a lively game of Go Fish going or escape with a water-themed show such as Bubble Guppies, "Finding Nemo," "The Little Mermaid," "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" or "Shark Tale" (depending on age-appropriateness).

 
 

Hometown Homage - Deep Dish Pizza

Instill some hometown pride in your little Chicagoans by devoting family night to our great city.

What to eat: Deep dish pizza is obviously an iconic Chicago dish-but it is also packed with fat and calories. Introduce your family to this healthy take on a local favorite.

What to do: The options for Chicago-related board games are endless. Try Chicago-opoly or Chicago Bears Yahtzee. Check out Look Out Chicago: Here I Come on DVD (store.lookoutworldhereicome.com) for a local tour that little ones will appreciate. If you haven't introduced your older kids to the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (and the best city tour ever), now is the time.

 
 

Love Your Letters

Devote an evening to the alphabet (and sneak some learning in with your family fun).

What to eat: Add some alphabet-shaped noodles (available at most major grocery stores) to your favorite soup recipe. For dessert, mix up a batch of sugar cookie dough and make alphabet letter cookies for some whimsical fun.

What to do: Line your table with white butcher-block paper and set out alphabet letter stamps and ink (or just crayons) so that everyone can decorate their own space. After dinner, sit down for a wordsmithing game like Scrabble Junior, Boggle Junior or Up Words. If your group is interested in some screen time, throw on an episode of Word Girl on PBS. Older kiddos will love the spelling bee drama in the documentary "Spellbound."

 
 

Constructing Dinner and Fun

Devote a night to building things together (this theme will be a big hit with your construction-loving little ones).

What to eat: Add an unexpected element to taco night by creating a "taco tool box" for each member of the family to hold the various elements for make-your-own tacos. Buy a plain, wood mini tool box from the craft store for each member of the family (if you can't find mini tool boxes, plain wooden boxes will do). Line each tool box with parchment paper and fill it with all of the taco fixin's divided into sections, such as hard taco shells, tortillas, meat, cheese and veggies. Instruct your crew to get building! Messy? Yes, but totally worth it.

What to do: After constructing your own dinner, try your hand at a game like Jenga. Get out a set of basic building blocks or break out the LEGOs and challenge each other to a building competition. The winner can choose dessert. Check out an episode of Bob the Builder or a DVD from the Little Hard Hats series (littlehardhats.com) for building inspiration.

 
 
 







 
 
 
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