Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Learning Healthy Habits: 8 Ways to Make Dinner Time a Happy Time

Dinner time is a social time and a great opportunity to come together and share our day, laugh, and eat.  Too often it is a battle ground, particularly if you have picky eaters or little ones, but also if you have older ones who need to brush up on their manners.

Here are 8 tips to help your dinner time move more smoothly, irrespective of your children's ages.
1.  Get some help. I don't mean cooking.  That makes me bonkers.  Some of you more patient mothers probably have your kids cook with you.  I have other ways to survive the witching hour.  I hope someday I will be able to share the joys of cooking with them but not at this age.  I do however, call the kids for dinner about 5 minutes before dinner is ready.  They do their pre-dinner chores like setting the table, getting drinks, and carrying the plates to the seats.  I want to eat my food hot and there are just too many little last minute details for me to do it all and still eat while the food is warm.  So they help here.

2. Make sure dinner time is family time.  Most nighst we all sit together at the table. Well... we all sit down within 5 minutes of each other.  We say grace, and remain at the table until everyone is done eating.  Eating is a social thing. It is the time when we all gather to share equally.  That means no TV during dinner time unless it is a special occasion (movie night or me at home alone with the little ones!).  Turn down the lights a little and put away the phones.

Sidebar time: Let's talk about those nights alone with the little ones.  We try hard to keep family dinners but sometimes sports practices get in the way.  Those nights I get the girls bathed and started with dinner before they get home.  He eats with the athletes when they get home and usually the girls stick around at the table as long as I will let them.  Moving bath to before dinner is a little weird, but it works for us on those nights. When either he or I have our small groups or some other evening engagement, we have dinner with the family still and then leave as the meal is finishing up.  We usually don't agree to do things that start before 8pm for this reason.  If I am totally alone with the kids for the night I will change the schedule completely and do something like a picnic or a movie night to keep things from being totally overwhelming. 

3. Structure the conversation.  We do high/low and take turns talking about out day.  Each child has the opportunity to say what the high was from their day, and also their low point.  It is revealing, it is community building, and it also makes sure that our more talkative kids don't dominate the table talk.  Dinner time is often the "high"for the young ones, which just exemplifies that it isn't all about the food that they are eating.  It is about being together and sharing life as we break bread.

4. Teach them a polite way to decline eating something.  Nothing ruins dinner time faster than having your family reject that which you spent time cooking.  Particularly before they have even taken a bite. Not every thing we cook is really good.  Let's face it, sometimes we make lovely meals, other times they are just edible.  And still other times, well, we have to go searching for left overs in the fridge because the dinner on the plates was as Anthony would say "an epic fail mom".  In our home we have a phrase "I am not a big fan of this". It turns the situation away from "this is gross" to "it is not for me".   Some kids have pallets that are just harder to please.   As my pickiest is fond of reminding me -  "Everyone has different taste buds mom".  But kids do need to be taught how to politely decline the food. So teach them a non-offensive phrase or a subtle way of telling you that the food isn't agreeing with them.  It can be verbal or non-verbal.  Also encourage them to be ninja-like when they tell you.  All it takes is one kid gaging on a pea to set all the other ones into fits of "oh gross" - even if they would have eaten it.

5. Have some rules about what happens after they taste it and then tell you that they don't like the food.  They don't have to like it all and it is unrealistic for us to think they will.  Some families make different meals and cater to their kids individual tastes.  I don't.  Our kids can eat what is on the table or choose to be hungry instead.  That said, when the kids have choices at the table already, it increases the likelihood that there is something they will like.   Therefore we usually have two veggies to choose from and they have a meat and a side.  If they finish everything up and they are still hungry they are free to eat unclaimed leftovers from earlier in the week.

6. Eating family style vs. Plating the dinners.  When I was growing up we always ate family style.  We passed the food and everyone ate while the food was hot.  In our home we got into the habit of plating our meals.  This helps with my husband and my portion control,  and allows me to get the pots and pans soaking while we eat.  We have less dinner clean up, and a faster dinner because everyone is ready to eat when the plate is on the table.  I don't think one is better than the other, but consider the other option if you are in a rut.

7. Eating it all vs. eating until you are no longer hungry.  This is a tough one.  Our kids are required to eat all their veggies. This isn't an issue, because they like veggies.  They don't have to finish anything else on their plates, but uneaten food gets wrapped up for later.  Sometimes it is eaten, other times it is eventually tossed.  But if they come back to us an hour later wanting food, they know where to find it.    I am not a fan of throwing away perfectly good food so that they can eat something they think tastes better.  I am also not a fan of teaching my kids to overeat.

8.  Post dinner clean up.  It isn't over until it is clean. generally, the younger ones clear the table, the eldest rinses and loads the dishwasher.  They wipe down the tables and counters and even occasionally sweep.  I personally think the cook should never have to do the dishes.

Here's to a great dinner tonight! Thanks for stopping by to think with me.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...