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).

Creative ideas for quality family time at home.

Kick off your “backwards” Family Friday Night by climbing intopajamas, brushing teeth and getting ready for bed. Then, let thebackwards fun begin by unleashing some unexpected surprises on yourunsuspecting 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!

Backwards Night – Meatloaf Cupcakes

Meatloaf Cupcakes

Chicago winter weather is definitely not bathingsuit-appropriate, but you can use Family Friday Night as an excuseto pretend that you are beach-bound. Spread out a beach blanket onthe family room floor and let the fun begin. You could even throwon your bathing suits and blow up some beach balls for addedauthenticity.

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).

Beach Party – Tuna Boat

Tuna Boat

Instill some hometown pride in your little Chicagoans bydevoting 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

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.

Hometown Homage – Deep Dish Pizza

Healthy Deep Dish Pizza

Devote an evening to the alphabet (and sneak some learning inwith 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

Love Your Letters

Sugar Cookie Letters

Devote a night to building things together (this theme will be abig 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.

Constructing Dinner and Fun

Tool Box Tacos

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