Parents - How do you deal with kids and meals?

We’ve got two boys - ages 10 and 13. I’d like to see our family mealtimes be a little more like what the Cleavers used to be. I’d settle for it being more like the Munsters.

Basically that special “family time” has turned into several minutes of ragging the kids about not eating their vegetables before thay find an excuse to get the hell out of the room.

I’m sure this sounds all to familiar to many of you, so I’m seeking advice from the teeming millions. How have you handled this?

Disclaimer: My child is three so I may not be the best authority.

Why not make many meals a simple buffet style and have it in a more casual setting? I am not suggesting having it in front of a running TV. However, you could have it in the living room or in another casual area that you set up for some meals. Each person gets his or her food and then sits around a coffee table or in comfy seats where you can talk.

Dinner tables always struck me as too formal. The father and mother sitting at ends of the table seems more like a tribunal rather than effective family time to me. Kids will never like that. My family was never good at this sort of thing but my friend’s families that did the best always had casual dining away from the dinner table. Meals at a formal dining table always seemed too uncomfortable and forced.

We always had family dinner at 6:00 when I was growing up. It wasn’t a formal thing, but it was pretty much every night. My dad had a no whining policy and I guess we didn’t break it very often. If we complained about the food we got in trouble. Other than that it was nice to have family meals. I was always surprised that my friend’s families didn’t do the same.

Everyone has to eat at the same time - no straggling in.

No TV during dinner.

You eat what’s been prepared - this isn’t a restaurant.

Take as much as you want, but eat what you take.

If you’re not hungry, you can still sit at the table and spend some time with the rest of the family. If you don’t want to eat - fine, don’t eat. You’re old enough to know whether you’re hungry; however, no getting a snack 15 minutes after you’ve told me you’re not hungry.

I don’t care if you eat your vegetables or not - eat only meat, or only bread, or only the napkin if that’s what you want that’s on the table.

We also mix it up - sometimes we eat in the kitchen, sometimes in the dining room, sometimes we have indoor picnics and eat on the floor, sometimes we eat outside.

I made a vow, which I mostly keep, not to rag my kids about what they do and don’t eat. They have a limited range of foods they like right now, so we just ask them to try something new once in a while and leave it at that. If they don’t like the main dish my husband and I are eating, they have the option of canned soup or a peanut butter sandwich. I find they are more willing to eat salads or raw veggies and they both like fruit so I serve those pretty often. They have to have reasonable table manners and stay until everyone has finished, but those are pretty much the only demands.

Everyone is tired at the end of the day. We’ve been working and the kids have been at school or camp. I try not to expect too much sparkling conversation. Sometimes we just listen to a CD or audiobook.

We’ve got a daughter that has survived almost 18 years. We never did nag her to eat anything on her plate. We also didn’t offer her any unhealthy snacks when she decided to not eat what was healthy for her.
We always had one rule at the table. NO arguing. We made our meals as pleasant as possible, and it’s worked out great! Even after all these years. We actually look forward to mealtime, since we know we will be relaxed and the time together will be enjoyable, with no unpleasantness.

My kids are now 16 and 22.

We always had family dinner around the breakfast table (obviously this was in the breakfast nook, the dining room was for special occasions), with no TV. (Actually, the 22 year old is home for two weeks so we’re still doing this.)

The rules were pretty simple. Just try a bite of everything. I rarely did substitutions. Sometimes we had dessert, sometimes we didn’t. We did eat a lot of mac and cheese, because everyone (except–sigh–me) liked it quite a bit.

One thing I did was get the kids involved in the preparation of the food. They enjoy cooking.

I actually like salad, enjoy fruit and vegies, and obviously this is the behavior I modeled for the kids.
Cooking and eating does not have to be this dutiful chore.

Mom of a 12 year old boy with two like-aged children attached to his hip and often eating with us, a 6 month old baby and nanny to numerous other Littles:

Get the kids more involved. Have them search the internet (Ok, just search pre-selected sites) or magazines for recipes. Have them each plan one meal a week with you to shop for, prepare and cook. The other one cleans up that night. Being involved with meal planning and cooking makes even the vegetables more appealing.

But I also don’t nag about food. Our rule for any “I don’t like it” food, especially new food, is Three Bites. Bite One you don’t even really taste, cause you’re bracing yourself for it. Bite Two lets one consider it. Bite Three is the final judge. If you really don’t like it, you can make yourself a pb&j or get some precut carrot sticks and ranch dressing from the fridge (depending on whether the kid doesn’t like a protein or a vegetable.) We are not a short order cook.

Make a new “Storytelling” meal policy. Each night, one person (include parents) will have to tell an entertaining story about something that happened to them this week, or share a news story of interest, or a favorite childhood memory. Then listen. Really listen - not interupting, not nagging, but listen. When the person’s done, s/he can indicate this and then discussion can commence. It may feel awkward for the first week, but it’ll get easier. Though they may act otherwise, preteens and teens crave your positive attention, and knowing they’ll have it for even 10 minutes can chill them out for a whole week. (Just don’t tell them it’s also inproving their writing and speaking abilities, as well as vocabulary and grammar.)

Finally, even if your family is not religious, consider saying a blessing together before the meal. It doesn’t have to be religious: don’t the breadwinners, the farmers, the animals who gave their bodies and the cook(s) deserve a moment of thought and thanks? Taking a few moments to connect as a family and pause before just begining to wolf the meal down can go a long way to soothing meal darting.

And no one, in our house, leaves the table until we’re all finished. If you choose to bolt down your food like a starving hog, that’s fine. But you’ll have a rather boring half hour just sitting there while the rest of us finish like civilized people.

In my family we always ate dinner together. If we weren’t going to be home in time for dinner (for a school related reason usually) we were supposed to call ahead. No showing + not calling = Big Trouble. It helped that we rarely ate before 8pm, so it was easy for everyone to get their shit in line and be ready to sit down at that time. No one left the table before everyone was done eating, and no none left the kitchen until dinner was cleaned up.

We ate at the “kitchen table” – my family’s kitchen and dining room are one room, with no “formal” dining room. My brother and I are not picky eaters, but my parents never ever believed in pushing food. “Take what you want, eat what you take” was the philosophy. It helps both my parents are excellent cooks. My older brother and I always set the table before dinner and everyone who didn’t cook helped with the dishes (my brother learned to cook so as to get out of dish duty). Sometimes we had dessert, sometimes not. This continued from when we were very little until I left for college.

I was also suprised to learn that other family rarely ate dinner together. I think it is a great habit to have.

I’ve raised 5 kids and we never made a big yank about dinner. When it’s ready, show up and fill a plate. Sit down wherever. Something with gravy or spaghetti sauce stays at the table, fajitas or pizza are couch food. It may sound like it’s too permissive but all of them turned out just fine.

These are pretty much our rules as well, except the kids do have to eat a bit of everything. And although I’m very not-religious, the kids have been exposed to the family religion, so I have the youngest say grace before we start. It’s a transition. I really like WhyNot’s 3 bites and Storytelling also! We generally do a “worst/best thing that happened today”.

Even now, and I’m 29, if food is pushed at me, my appetite goes away. I was never nagged to eat at home that I remember, but I did have a relative that thought the more he nagged, the more I’d eat. Funny how the more he nagged the LESS I’d eat.

I’d say fix the food, make sure there’s at least something you know they like, and just let them eat or not as they want. If they don’t want what’s on the table, there’s the kitchen, go for it. Don’t turn mealtimes into a fight. If there’s enough of a variety over a few days (and some nutritious snacks that they like in the kitchen) they’ll be fine. This applies to all meals; I, for one, don’t eat breakfast until I’ve been up for at least a couple of hours. I am simply not hungry first thing. I wouldn’t push them to eat in the morning if they’re honestly not interested, send some fruit with them to school or something.

I don’t have kids, but I do know how I react to even well-intentioned food pushiness.

Mom of 13 and 11 year old daughters.

4 nights out of the week, we sit down and eat dinner as a family, no t.v… Weekends are much more informal; mainly each person fends for himself.

My older daughter is fairly picky in that she likes plain food – no fajita seasoning, no barbeque or teriyaki sauce… I have no problem holding the sauce. However, that’s as far as I go. I don’t prepare special meals. As WhyNot says, I’m not a short order cook. If anyone, hubbie included, doesn’t like what the chef has prepared, he/she is free to fix their own dinner provided it’s finished by the time we sit down for our meal at 6:15.

A fruit OR vegetable is required at each meal. I always have fresh bananas, grapes, and apples in stock and other fruits (strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe) in season to pick from.

After 7pm, no eating with the exception of fruit/veggies and popcorn (freshly popped; real butter). No drinks with sugar after 7pm.

We also follow plnner’s plan. And I’d like to add that we emphasize the virtue of a show of respect for the preparer of the meal. When the kids make faces or whine about some dish they don’t want to try, they are immediately corrected for rudeness.

We always make sure there’s something on the plate that the child likes, but we don’t give out seconds on favorites unless a ‘shunned’ offering is at least tasted.

My standard response to “I don’t like this” is: That’s unfortunate. Perhaps you’ll like what I serve for breakfast.

After my sister and I left for university my mum and dad had a real struggle to get my little sister (now 17) to eat dinner with them. She preferred to make pasta and sauce when she got in from school at 5:30 rather than wait for dinner with the folks at 7:30.

Mum solved this by getting healthy snacks for her (crudites, olives, nuts, matzoh crackers and cheese etc) and allowing her to choose, and twice a week cook, dinner.

Mum bought a whole stack of Australian Women’s Weekly recipe books
which are full of tasty, easy food.

Now sis enjoys planning out the menus with mum and she really enjoys cooking those meals on her two days, and serving them up to my parents.

My brothers are two and four years younger than me, and for about ten years (I’m 21 now) we had almost no food preferences in common - I ate meat, but not mince or sausages, Sam and Thomas only ate sausages, and the mince out of lasagne. I wouldn’t eat pasta, or rice, or bread. Sam ate rice, but not noodles, Tho,as ate noodles but not rice, both of them ate loaves of bread. I have no idea how my mother fed us all, but as soon as we were old enough to cook, if we didn’t like what was infront of us, we were free to cook something else.

Now that we’re all semi-adults, dinner is good fun when we’re all together. It gets very loud, and there’s a lot of different foods on the table, but it’s fun all the same.

When I was a kid there were never really any rules and so-forth. By the time I was 12 I’d basically fix myself what I wanted when I wanted. My parents of course made sure I didn’t have ice cream for dinner, but you get the idea.

All these years later I’ve never really understood what the big deal is about THE FAMILY MEAL. There are lots of people here saying “no tv!”. What’s wrong with watching TV? Or reading the paper? It’s just eating. I guess it’s one way for the family to have some decent quiet time together. Even today I pretty much eat what I want at whatever time I’m hungry, and don’t feel a need to consume something I don’t want to.

I also give my mom shit about how she says she loves turkey on thanksgiving… turkey this, turkey that! I ask her why the fuck she doesn’t make turkey whenever she damn well wants it?

Then there are holiday “dinners” which start at 2 p.m. That’s another rant, this is IMHO. I guess all I am trying to say is that IMHO we humans fuss about too much about shoving food into our mouths.

Your boys are 10 and 13. They’re old enough prepare food on their own, more or less, if they are not keen on what you have prepared. Just no ice cream for dinner, and they’ll turn out fine. It’s just eating. They won’t starve to death if they don’t like your turkey pot pie :slight_smile:

I suppose it depends on the culture in your house.

Is food just food, and eating just eatng, and everyone catches up with each other organically?

Or do you strive to make the family dinner about more than eating?
Is it the one time in the day where you all sit down together and share your thoughts and experiences? Is it a time when really interesting and thought prooking conversations take place? Is it the time when you really feel like you get to know your family?

If it’s the former, then sure, the kids can eat PB&J and watch tv on the sofa and all will be well. If it’s the latter, sharing the same meal without distractions is part of the deal.

My family’s Sunday lunches have turned into 4 hour, 4 bottle of wine affairs (and that’s for 6 people). I always look forward to my dad’s cooking and the conversations aound the table. The more time I spend with my family, the more I realise how much fun they are, what good company they provide and how lucky I am to have them. Our family dinners are not something I would like to have grown up without, nor are they something I want to give up now.

Well put Irishgirl. My parents own their own business and worked almost constantly through my childhood. Me and my brother went to different schools starting when I was 5 and had different hobbies and friends. Dinner was the one time we had to catch up with each other.

BTW, even the cat also came to family dinner and sat with us with good manners (NO paws on the table or begging.) He would just sit in his seat and chill with the fam.

What helped encourage me to eat new stuff was seeing my parents enthusiastically enjoying the food. The meals I remember most fondly are weekend lunches. Relaxed, casual meals with the multiple dishes my mother typically prepared. (She is old school and made almost everything from scratch. Less so now that she’s older but back then, almost everything was from scratch.)