Chow time! “Cowboy Night” makes for super fun family dinners.

Like a lot of mothers, I’ve always struggled with getting my kids to eat AND ­­­­not wanting to run away and change my name make mealtimes a fun family activity. When my kids were around 4 or 5 years old, I stumbled upon this article in one of those parenting magazines about a fun dinnertime routine. I was thrilled to try it.

Low and behold, it was a winner. Amazing. Life.Changing. At least for one night of the week.

Allow me to introduce “Cowboy Night”!

Cowboy Night is, at minimum dinner, and at most, a really good time. You will need just a few basic supplies:

1. Cowboy Stew

Your kids’ pickiness will dictate this one. I started out with a really elaborate mixture of Annie’s White Shells and Cheese with peas and pieces of rotisserie chicken. We’ve ended up with just Annie’s White Shells and Cheese. But you can use anything…leftovers thrown into a pot works just fine. Ya’ll, as long as it’s served in a bowl and requires only one utensil, those little cowboys and cowgirls won’t care.

2. Cowboy Hats

Yes, you have to wear one, too. This won’t work unless everyone is 100% in. Inexpensive adult cowboy hats are a dime a dozen, pick one up at any one of those party supply stores. We always keep extra cowboy hats on hand because Cowboy Night become quite a hit among our friends and family.

3. Colored Handkerchiefs

Yep, worn in a triangle tied around the neck, just like real cowboys. These also serve as actual napkins, just pull it up and wipe that slop off your face. Kids get a huge kick out of this. And bonus, they actually wipe their face. You can find these at Walmart for about $1 a piece in the women’s accessory section.

4. Cowboy Music

Our favorite is Dixie Chicks, but any twangy songs about pickup trucks and jowled dogs will work just fine. Post-dinner, we like to do a little square dancing, but that is completely optional.

5. Cowboy Talk

Here’s where your imagination is required. Dinnertime chat consists of our pretend lives on the range. We talk of our horses mostly (my daughter’s horse is named Rainbow and is blue—whatever works!). My son has been known to go on for 20 minutes about the finer points of his horse’s treat preferences and saddle. Your kids’ imaginations will explode before your eyes and you’ll be astounded at what they come up with. Don’t forget to intersperse all cowboy talk with appropriate cowboy slang. Tipping your hats and using “ya’ll” as much as possible is a prerequisite to legitimate cowboy behavior.

And here’s the pièce de résistance…

5. Cow Bell

Originally this was used to signify the start of Chow Time. But as it sat on our table, my kids started ringing it when they would finish eating an item, in its entirety, on their plate. I don’t know why it works, but those little pardners will eat and eat and eat, as long as they can ring that dang bell when they’re finished. Try it, it works, and not just on Cowboy Night.

Cowboy Night (Tuesday nights at our house) has become such a success that my kids request it constantly. It’s great to see their excitement and involvement in an activity that normally causes such angst in many households. More importantly, we’re creating memories. I’m sure the day will come when they’re way too old to be interested in such antics, but I know they’ll still look back and say, “That was really fun mom”!

Does your family do something fun, silly, inventive, educational or just plain cool for dinner? Share your ideas below in our comment box!

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