Before I had kids, my idea of a perfect meal time is one where everyone in the family comes to the table the first time I ask them too and while they devour their food (chewing with mouths closed, of course) we share meaningful conversation about our day and bond in new and wonderful ways. At the close of the meal, everyone thanks me for my cooking and takes their dishes to the sink, politely rinsing them and waiting patiently for one another. No one begs for dessert.
Instead, mealtimes can become the worst triggers for arguments, tears, and stress. I decided to figure out a way to make this work for us without all the drama.
I still believe something resembling the dreamy scenario I mentioned is possible and will one day become our reality, but my secret to enjoyable mealtimes with young kids looks pretty much nothing like the above picture. Not even close. My approach to mealtimes with kids is still satisfying though—totally argument free and pleasant the vast majority of the time.
So what's my shocking secret to pleasant mealtimes with my kids?
Here’s what I began doing about three years ago when my kids were 6, 4, and 2 years old. Keep in mind, it took changing my entire outlook and deciding what mattered to me the most. Some might be horrified to imagine meals this way, but it’s been one of my best parenting decisions. Ever.
1.) We don't make meals quality time. Quality time happens at other times but not while eating. Meals are for fuel alone!
2.) We don't sit at the table all together. I take plates to my kids--sometimes they are at the table but often they are elsewhere playing in the family room etc. There are some rooms that are off limits for eating in but there are so many others available that it’s not an issue.
3.) I feed them when they are STARVING so they actually eat. (We cut off snacks for about an hour before dinner.)
4.) I don't monitor or make them eat. They just know they don't get dessert if they don't eat and they don't get snacks later if they haven’t eaten their dinner. I keep the portions small and am happy to give them seconds!
5.) I consistently make things I know they like and once in a while when I offer them something new as a portion of their plate, (my kids are pretty picky and not overly adventurous eaters) I ask that they take just one bite in order to get dessert later.
6.) They put their empty plates in the sink as a requirement to ask for that dessert they love so much.
Meals are not a battle I choose. When they are older, we can gather together and sit for periods of time. That's not this chapter. Sure enough, once I took the pressure off of myself—and them—to make mealtimes a glorious experience for anything other than eating, it went far more smoothly. The bonus is that I get to sit at the table with my husband and enjoy my own food in peace and quiet or over adult conversation. Um, hello! Wonderfulness. I wish I had done this so much sooner!
Could I train my kids or work with them until they complied to sitting at the table etc.? Sure. But it’s just not worth it to me over this issue. As my boys grow older and are able to sit at a table for longer periods of time, we will do more eating at the table as a family, but I don’t stress about it in these early years.
Sometimes we try to force something that isn’t working because of traditions, culture, or unrealistic expectations. Give yourself permission to relax over mealtimes if it’s driving you crazy.
Let’s raise a glass to stress-free suppers, shall we? Here’s to happy kids and even happier, parents. Cheers, moms!
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SHARE: What are mealtimes like for you? Do you need to make some changes? Have something that works for you? Please share it!