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.