It’s time to enjoy family dinner again

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I often get asked, “So what are your kids going to eat for dinner?” as if I would actually put in the effort or energy to create a second meal for the evening… and my answer is always the same. They will eat the exact same thing that Todd and I are eating.

This blog post is in many ways one of the main reasons that I started Four Course Family. It’s no secret that I enjoy cooking and eating, and by nature, my kids also have developed a passion for food. It’s always bewildering to me when I see parents eating a delicious home cooked meal that they spent time and effort on, only to give their children a PB&J or grilled cheese for dinner simply because their children don’t want to eat the same food as the parents. Not that there is anything wrong with having a PB&J or grilled cheese, mind you, but those sorts of dinners should be saved for evenings where everyone has a special “choose your own meal” or everyone is eating grilled cheeses together.

I’m not trying to preach here, people. My family is by NO means perfect. We have our fair share of good evenings and bad evenings around the dinner table, and I truly understand that a headstrong child can be a force to be reckoned with during dinner. Case in point:

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 However, I do think that by instilling a few rules and by incorporating some new habits, family dinnertime can be less of a stress and more of an enjoyable time for everyone. So, I put together a list that may be helpful in getting children to be more interested in trying new foods, and less interested in fighting dinnertime.

  1. Don’t offer any other food other than what was made for the main meal. This should be a hard and fast rule. Once a child knows that they have a choice in eating or not eating what you have made for dinner, they are much more likely to test the system.
  2. Restrict snacks for at least and hour before dinner. I know that this is easier said than done, and many times I give in and give the kids a snack when I am preoccupied and cooking. But believe me, kids eat MUCH better dinners when they are actually hungry.
  3. Let dessert be a surprise, not an expectation. I don’t know about your house, but when my kids know that there are cupcakes waiting to be eaten, they want nothing to do with the food on their plates. If children eat their dinner without the expectation of dessert, they eat much better, and then dessert can be a nice surprise for a job well done at the dinner table that night.
  4. Prepare your kids food the way you enjoy eating it. Kids are a creation of their environment, and many times if they see you eating your food with a certain topping or spice, they will want to try it that way too. We have found that our 2 year old likes to have bites of her food with hot sauce on top, the same way her daddy eats it.
  5. Have a special reward for eating all of your dinner. This does not have to be a dessert or “treat”. This could be anything from an extra 10 minutes of TV to an extra book at bedtime. My mother whistles a tune for each of my kids when they eat a good dinner at her house and they both love that! PicMonkey Sample.jpg
  6. Don’t be too serious about the food.  My kids don’t want to hear about all the health benefits of eating beets, but they always giggle when they remember that beets turn their pee-pee pink the next day!
  7. Experiment with new and different foods together as a family. Often, when eating something new, my 5 year old will ask “Have I eaten this before?” It’s a lot more fun for him when we all take our first bites of a new food together and then talk about what we like about it.
  8. Sit down together and eat as a family. We all get busy with schedules, but this is something that my family makes a priority. It’s a special time of the night for us, where we can all spend some time together, share a meal, and talk about our days.
  9. Let your kids help in the kitchen. Kids are little sponges and love to help out with tasks. Give them a kid knife and let them cut up soft components to the dinner or let them drain a can of vegetables. They will be much more interested in eating something that they were able to help prepare.
  10. Let your kids help menu plan. Before you do your grocery shopping for the week, ask your kids if there are any meals that they would like to eat for dinner that week. You might be surprised with what they say when they are able to have some input.
  11. If all else fails, don’t be afraid to let them go to bed hungry. This is a learning process and sometimes takes a few nights of failures for your kids to realize that there is a new rule for dinnertime in place. At the end of the day, you are ultimately doing a good thing for your child. 

 

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Comments

  1. says

    Thank you so much for that picture. It really made me feel like I’m not the only one out there with imperfect children. I was overjoyed to see such a face in my home today; it must have been special for Mother’s Day!

    I also agree with your suggestions. I often have people telling me, “Well, my children would never eat that.” I want so much to tell them, “Yes, they would! Give them a chance.”

    The only one I’m not on board with is #5. Our requirement is that the children try the food. I don’t want to reward the children for cleaning their plates because they might eat past that point of feeling full just to earn a reward. I’ve struggled with my weight since I was a child, and if my children feel full (and you can tell if they mean it), I encourage them to stop eating, even if there’s still food on their plates. I still need to learn that lesson.

    • says

      Hi Jody! Thanks for the comment and the input. Perhaps I should have stated #5 differently. We don’t require our children to eat more than what they can handle, and I certainly don’t require for them to clean their plates (unless they want to). What I meant was that at a certain point when I see that they are getting distracted or not doing a good job of eating, I will say something like “OK, just eat 5 more bites and then you can be finished.” and if they can follow through with doing a good job of eating their dinner, I let them know that I am proud of a job well done. I think that we as parents have a good gauge of what our children normally eat, so if my son or daughter is having a night where they are only eating a few bites, I encourage them to eat a little more, so that they are not hungry later before bed. I completely understand the point that you are trying to get across though!
      Thanks for reading and feel free to offer more comments on my other posts if you would like!
      Hannah

      • says

        Yes, we have to encourage them to eat more, too, sometimes . . especially the littlest ones who get distracted and want to be toddling about instead of eating. I’ve been known to play the reverse psychology game of “You’d better not eat what’s on this fork.” One important thing you said was that parents know their own child’s normal; as parents, we do need to be aware of what and how much our children are eating. We don’t need to be over-controlling (“You may have 7 raisins and two peanut butter crackers for snack.”), but we need to be aware of what and how much is going in to these little ones.

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