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10 Conversation Starters to Kick Off Sunday Dinner (U.S.)


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May 5, 2015

Ever experience an awkward silence at family dinners? A few simple questions might change that. Check out these conversation starters, which could open the door to more compelling Sunday dinner discussions.

1. What’s your favorite family night TV program or movie?

Regardless of your generation, perhaps your family has a favorite television show or movie they like to watch after family mealtime gatherings. If you were a parent or child of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Sunday dinner entertainment may have included gathering around the television to watch “Bonanza” or “Wonderful World of Disney.” A question about favorite family shows could start a lively discussion.

Fun Fact: Lasting 14 seasons (1959-1973), “Bonanza” was among the longest-running Western television series (second behind “Gunsmoke” 1955-1975) and continues to air in syndication. While the show originally aired on Saturday night, it later became a Sunday night favorite, entertaining millions of baby boomers.

Action Item: Poll your Sunday dinner group and decide what show or movie you’d like to watch after the next family dinner. How about a throw back? Show the grandkids (or great-grandchildren) the programs you watched back in the day by checking out some classics on Netflix or other television/movie services.

2. What family meal makes your mouth water?

Every family has that famous go-to recipe that just makes life better. Perhaps it’s Grandma’s meatloaf or Mom’s chicken Alfredo. Some recipes have been passed down through the generations, making family mealtimes even more special. Start the talk about the foods your family has always enjoyed. It’s sure to whet everyone’s appetite for the next family dinner.

Fun Fact: Chicken or beef? It’s nearly a toss-up! In 2012, 56.6 pounds per person of boneless chicken were available for Americans to eat, compared to 54.5 pounds of beef.

Source: United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service

Action Item: Collect your family’s favorite recipes into a simple book (online or print) that can be shared among the generations. Assign someone to make (or bring) a favorite recipe for the next family dinner.

3. What’s your favorite dessert?

Whether it’s a healthy fruit dish or double chocolate cheesecake, many family dinners wouldn’t be complete without something sweet. Remember, dessert doesn’t have to be unhealthy. Ask everyone around the table to name their preference and tell you why. Just talking about it won’t add any calories, right?

Fun Fact: If you lined up the number of pies sold at U.S. grocery stores in one year, they would circle the globe and then some.

Source: U.S. Pie Council

Action Item: Ask someone in the family to volunteer to make (or buy) one of the family dessert favorites for the next family dinner.

4. Describe your best family vacation, weekend or getaway.

Some families travel together, others don’t. Whether you’re reliving a memorable family camping trip or listening to your college-age niece talk about her recent trip to Italy, travel stories may generate some of the best family dinner conversations! Even old vacation stories can brighten a meal. (And the younger generation might learn a thing or two they didn’t know about Grandpa Fred!)

Fun Fact: According to a 2014 AAA survey, more than one-third (36%) of travelers planned to take a multi-generational trip within that 12-month period, with more than one quarter of those travelers including three generations.


Action Item: Plan some time at the next family dinner to talk about where everyone would like to go on their next vacation. (Or, if traveling is not in the budget, rent one of National Lampoon’s Vacation movies and prepare to laugh all night.)

5. How did you meet (and romance) your mate?

Ah, romance. The stories never grow old. Ever wonder about your grandparents’ first kiss? Or when Mom realized Dad was “the one”? Maybe war – or a twist of fate – interrupted love. Even if you’ve heard the story before, chances are there might be a detail you’ll uncover during a family dinner.

Fun Fact: A 2013 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reported that more than a third (nearly 35%) of marriages in the U.S. started online. About 45% of couples met on dating sites; the rest met on online social networks, chat rooms, instant messaging or other online forums.

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Action Item: Bring old photo albums and wedding books to the next family dinner. If nothing else, the kids at the table might get their laughs for the evening!

6. Tell us about your favorite job (or time in the military).

Maybe it’s the time you spilled coffee on your outfit the first day at work. Or when Grandpa spent a week in the jungle during the war. Stories from our everyday lives span the mundane to the magnificent, and everything in between. Any story has the potential to help families bond and discover attributes about their family members they never knew. Open the door to learning more about your family history.

Fun Fact: What are the most fun jobs in America? To each his own, but check out this list of 100 fun jobs from Create a Career: Dog walking, anyone?

Action Item: Ask a family member to collect photos and other memorabilia for the next family dinner. Make future conversations a history lesson for younger family members looking to learn more about the mark your family has made at home and abroad.

7. What is the origin of the family name?

Names can reveal fascinating things about family history. Ask family members if they know anything about the family name. Older relatives likely will have some insight into the ethnic origins of your family name as well as the meaning of the name. Who knows?  You may learn about a forefather – or mother – who not only shares your last name, but some of your interests and characteristics as well!

Fun Fact: True surnames, hereditary names used to distinguish one person from another, first came into use in Europe about 1000 A.D., beginning in southern areas and gradually spreading northward. In many countries, the use of hereditary surnames began with the nobility who often called themselves after their ancestral seats.


Action Item: Before the next family dinner, ask family members to spend time researching family names and the history of your family. Another topic for future dinner discussions: how first names of family members were selected and why.

8. What legacy would you like to pass on to your family?

Whether it is history or a commitment to a cause or a talent, every family likely has legacies, skills and attributes they would like to see passed down through the generations. Open the door to conversation with this question about what is important to family members, both younger and older. You might be surprised by what you learn.

Fun Fact: According to Family Tree Magazine, tombstone rubbings are one way to learn about a legacy. Rubbings of an ancestor’s tombstone may be more intriguing to some than photos. If you decide to try it, remember to ask a cemetery superintendent or caretaker if rubbings are allowed.

Source: Family Tree Magazine:

Action Item: Why not use future family dinner discussions to start on or enhance your family tree. Go to one of the many websites, such as, to explore your heritage, which is likely to help initiate conversations for many family dinners to come. A family tree is not the only way to leave a legacy. Think about a skill an older family member might be willing to pass on to a younger family member – like woodworking, quilting or scrapbooking.

9. What is your favorite hobby?

Most of us have hobbies, and some older adults may have had several over their lifetimes. Ask an older family member what he or she enjoys or used to enjoy. Talk with the younger crowd about hobbies they might like to start. Discuss next steps. For instance, if Bobby wants to take up fishing, and Grandpa Ed used to love to fish, the two could spend time discussing how to make that happen.

Fun Fact: lists the top 50 hobbies in America. How many of the top ten hobbies are on your list too?

  1. Reading
  2. Watching TV
  3. Family time
  4. Going to movies
  5. Fishing
  6. Computer
  7. Gardening
  8. Renting movies
  9. Walking
  10. Exercise


Action Item: Share a hobby at your next family dinner. If you’ve taken up walking, and the weather is nice, ask all family members to join you on a stroll through the neighborhood, helping those who might need a hand to participate. Or, if you’ve promised to help Cousin Susie learn to knit, bring along the supplies.

What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to do?

Admit it. You have a bucket list. And each member of your family – even Grandma – probably does too. Is it swimming with dolphins? Or a hot-air balloon ride over the Serengeti? The sky’s the limit. Share something from your bucket list. You might be surprised what others at dinner yearn for as well.

Fun Fact: Seeing Iceland's popular natural phenomenon -- the Northern Lights -- is listed as the top bucket list item on a survey conducted by GE Capital Direct 1 for the 2015-bucket list.


Action Item: Make a list of your family’s bucket wishes and, at the next dinner, talk about ways you can help a loved one realize his or her wish. Maybe you can’t sail over the Serengeti in a balloon. Perhaps a local balloon festival is an option? Discuss ways to make your and your family’s dreams come true.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. July 31, 2015 at 8:31 am | Posted by Patti

    Awkward silence??? It would be nice just to be able to hear yourself think. Lots of kids, parents and 1 grandparent (also a great-grandparent) so there is lots of conversations and noise to go around. Once it gets started, its not easy to leave!!!


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