I have been doing this mom thing for almost eight years now, and yet up until very recently, I struggled with dinner time. And when I say “struggle” I’m talking about every aspect…
…from what I make (and kids don’t eat).
… to the time of day (the kids are never hungry at the same time).
…to dinnertime manners (seriously why can’t they just sit down?!).
I have spent so much time and energy fighting with my kids, that a few months ago, I decided I’m done.
I am done fighting with them over dinner.
There has got to be a better way to do this. So I thought a lot about specifically what caused the most arguments, and laid out some rules in an attempt to make dinnertime slightly less chaotic and a little more peaceful for everyone.
So now my kids know the rules, and I have to tell you, dinnertime has been much better since then. I wouldn’t go so far as to say “peaceful” but much better.
These are our Dinnertime Rules:
You don’t have to eat if you’re not hungry. So many times I’ve heard, “but I’m not huuuungry!” So now, my reply is, “ok. If you’re not hungry, you don’t have to eat.” I don’t think forcing kids to “clean their plate” despite their appetite is a healthy habit. If I’m not hungry, I wouldn’t want to be forced to eat, so why am I trying to force my kids to eat when they’re not hungry? But kids, just so you know, if you don’t eat dinner, you also don’t get dessert until you eat something healthy.
You have to try what I make. I make a dinner that’s relatively healthy and balanced. Usually the kids will look at it and say, “ew, I hate that!” to which I now reply, “Try it. If you still hate it, I’ll make you a peanut butter and fluff sandwich.” Sometimes they like what I make; sometimes they eat peanut butter and fluff. But again, I don’t think forcing kids to eat something they hate is a healthy habit to get into. And to be honest, throwing a PB and fluff sandwich together or microwaving some chicken nuggets is really not that much extra effort on my part. It’s definitely worth the few minutes to have less whining.
You have to sit down at the table. Whether you’re hungry or not, you have to sit down at the table with the family for a little while. What’s “a little while”? It varies. Sometimes a few minutes, sometimes more. While you’re sitting at the table, you are sitting in a chair. Not standing. Not playing.
You have to tell me your “best thing”. Before you may be excused from the dinner table and run back to whatever video game you were playing, you have to tell me the best thing that happened to you that day. This makes them reflect back on their day, and (hopefully) start up a conversation. I also tell them the good things that happened in my day.
You have to ask to be excused. Growing up, all four of us kids had to ask to be excused before we could leave the dinner table. Sometimes, if my Dad didn’t think we spent enough time with the family, he would say, “no, you may not be excused”. So, now it’s my turn to say, “No, you may not be excused. Sit down.”
If you don’t eat a fruit or vegetable you don’t get dessert. Simple as that. But here’s the thing that has kept us from many fights: you can pick what you like. You can pick whatever fruit or vegetable you like. Again, I don’t think forcing kids to eat something they hate is good for anybody involved (them, or me who has to listen to the whining and gagging). I want them to be healthy, but also be able to choose the healthy foods they eat.
So now, instead of fighting, we end up sitting and talking about our day. Sometimes it’s over chicken and vegetables, sometimes over peanut butter and fluff. But the time we spend together is much more important than what we are eating (or not eating).