The Sweetest Dinner Ritual

am so excited to continue my Family Rituals Series featuring the one and only Joanna Goddard. You probably know her as the creator/empress behind Cup of Jo, which is not so much a lifestyle blog as it is a thrice-daily fix that her zillion zealous fans (including yours truly) crave like junkies. I am grateful to her for that, of course, but mostly I’m grateful for her as an entrepreneurial inspiration, a faithful DALS supporter from the beginning, and a good friend. Here, she shares a ritual I guarantee you’ll start tonight. Take it away Joanna!
My young boys are typically chatty Cathies, but for some reason, when we’d sit down to dinner, they’d clam right up. When I’d ask questions — “How was school?” “How was lunch?” “How was the playground?”— they’d answer monosyllabically, while wolfing down chicken fingers and the odd piece of broccoli.
So, one day, determined to spark conversation (and teach them the joy of talking to friends and family over a shared meal), I suggested a new game. We’d go around the table, and each person would ask a question to another person of their choosing.

“Who wants to go first?” I asked.

Both boys’ hands shot up.

And thus it began: Our now beloved ritual of going around the table and asking each other questions. Six-year-old Toby usually goes first (as older brothers usually do), and for a while, his favorite question was, “How did you get home from work?” We’d regale him with stories of fast bike rides and busy subway trains. Then three-year-old Anton would go next. “Um…. how did you get home from work?!!” he would ask, even though he had just heard our answers. (We’d try our best to tell them again without skipping a beat.)

As time passed, their questions and answers became more varied. Anton went through a “How was your day?” phase, which always sounded so sweet coming from a toddler, and Toby upped the ante by asking more fantastical questions, like, “What animal would you be?” and true to form, “What is your favorite kind of car?”
Alex and I ask them where in the world they’d want to go on a trip, or who they’d invite for a sleepover (real or pretend!). But truth be told, all I really want to ask them is, ‘Will you promise you’ll always be this sweet? And that you’ll always sit around a dinner table with your mama who loves you?'”

Thank you, Joanna! (And Toby and Anton, pictured here.) See you soon.

Credits Illustration: Good Housekeeping, ca. 1954; Joanna and boys: Nicki Sebastian.
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Love Cup of Jo!

I learned early on that I couldn’t ask my son (9) open-ended questions and expect more than a monosyllabic answer (“how was your day?” “good”). So, either i ask pointed questions, (“what made you laugh today?”) or we play Roses and Thorns, which my son adores! Supper is often a rollicking good time these days!


Yes to roses & thorns! My almost four year old adores this dinner ritual, which keeps her engaged and feeling included in dinner conversation and creates a way to give voice to frustrations and disappointments as well as joys and triumphs.

Mary Wasielewski

I love this. I find that I do have to mix it up in order to spark the good conversation. We have played “high/low” for a couple years – what’s the high of your day, what’s the low of your day – to great success. I recently read an article in the Times about three questions to ask your kids. How were you brave today, how were you kind today, how did you fail today? And I’ve been trying that for the past week or so, and it has generated some great discussion. (What is failure, anyway?) All really great stuff.


Our family conversation starter is “good-bad-good” where everyone shares an anecdote from their day in the three categories. We usually don’t even finish as we have enough conversation from the first good…

Will try out Joanna’s version some time.


I think we will add this to the rotation! We usually discuss what our favorite part and our most challenging part of our days were. 🙂


Love her and love this! I am so grateful I’ll get to start this tradition when my little one starts talking. Smiles.


Love this! I tried it last night to great enthusiasm! My daughters want to do it every night. Thank you!


I made a jar of questions printed from Momastery. My girls love it! When we tried high/low of the day they would really get ”stuck” on the negative.

deborah bernstein

When my kids were little (20 years ago), we found them mute with the how was your day or what happened today kinda Q’s. But if we asked what did you have for lunch, that always got them talking and then we were off and running! They still love to talk about food. Chips off the block!