Family Dinner Rules

So what are we doing here, Robyn? Are you just going to tell us funny stories about your family, or are you going to offer some actual advice on how to make family dinners more tolerable?

Easy there, tiger. We’re getting there, but the short answer is yes. And yes.
 I love to tell stories, so you can certainly expect to find a few here. And the best (or at least, the most entertaining) stories are usually tales of chaos and failure – of which I have many. But I have a few triumphs as well, and if sharing how I came to those triumphs could be helpful to you, then who am I to hold back that information?
 Here’s the deal though – I’m not a nutritionist. My only family-feeding credentials come from the fact that I’ve been feeding one for 6+ years now (which in the big scheme of things isn’t that long!). And to be honest, most of what I do, I learned from some pretty smart people who are already blogging or writing books on the subject. You can bet I’ll be linking to them a lot, and you may just find those websites are all you need.
But I’m in the trenches, folks. And while I’m not claiming to know all the answers, if you’re looking for some empathy, some laughs, some good stories, and maybe a few pointers…then I’m your girl.

So, about those pointers…most of my triumphs (and I use that word very loosely) have to do with the actual eating of the meals rather than the planning or the cooking. But I know for some people, this is the primary source of their stress – the sitting down and getting food into little mouths. So, for what it’s worth, here are my 3 family dinner rules to make life easier in this regard.

    1. Cook one meal. So, you have a picky eater. It sucks. It sucks for a thousand reasons you don’t need me to list here, but for the love of God, don’t make it harder than it has to be by cooking the picky kid a different meal than what you and/or the rest of the family is eating.  “But he won’t eat it!” you say. Okay, then make sure every meal you plan includes something that he (and everyone else too) will eat (even if it’s just the fruit or bread). This does NOT mean you make Kraft mac-n-cheese as a side with every meal – that defeats the point. It just means you aim to serve a familiar side when trying a new main. Or a familiar main with a new side. Or at my house, fruit is dessert. So if nothing else, I know they’ll eat that. And this is really the whole point – to calm your fears that he’s going to starve. (But trust me, he won’t starve!*)
    2. Eat meals together. Before you give me crap for this, I totally get that not everyone can do this – he works late, you travel 3 nights a week, one kid has late practice, the other has rehearsal, etc. And I don’t think anyone can feasibly do this every night, but, if at all possible, figure out a way to get kids and parents eating together at least a few nights a week. “How does this make life easier?” you might wonder. In the long-term, it will make your kid a better, healthier eater. And the studies back me up on that. Of course, that’s a tough benefit to believe in when it requires shuffling schedules and bending over backwards to try to get everyone to the table at the same time. I get it. There is a short-term benefit too though. For me at least, if I’m eating at the same time my kids are eating, I’m too busy shoveling down my own food to notice (and obsess) about how much or how little they are consuming (or the fact that the dog is getting most of it). This means less stress for me. Less stress = easier.
    3. No snacking after 4 pm. It’s amazing what kids will eat when they are hungry, so do your best to make sure they are hungry for dinner! Now, I’m not a monster, and my kids know if they are really hungry and can’t wait a second more, they can always have carrots or a spinach nugget (more on those at a later date), or if dinner is still at least an hour away, I’ll let  them have an apple. (God, I sound horrible don’t I? Monster!) But hey, if they fill up on veggies, and don’t want dinner, I’m not too upset about it – but I don’t think that’s ever happened. Maybe once.
I started to add a 4th rule, Everyone takes at least one bite of everything, to the list, but I can’t exactly say that makes life easier. Persuading kids to take the happy bite can be the opposite of easy. Plus, it’s kind of a controversial rule (for reasons to discuss later). So, for now, these are my 3 family dinner rules to make life easier.

Love ’em? Hate ’em? Let me know either way. And share whatever rules you have about family dinner below.

*I say all of this assuming that there are no underlying medical concerns or something else going on with your kid that I have no clue about. If that’s the case, disregard all of my advice and do whatever you need to do. I mean, that should go without saying, right?

Want to commiserate about family dinner and discuss ideas to make it better? Provide your email address below.

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