My vision of a perfect family supper involves all 3 of my boys calmly sitting around the table, eating their meal with smiles on their faces, chatting happily about their day, and putting their dishes in the dishwasher after they have (politely) excused themselves.
The reality in my house is quite different. We say “sit down” approximately 241 times each meal, because some people apparently can’t sit for longer than 90 seconds. >> We actually taped a kid to a chair once. No joke. (Well, the tape was a joke, sort of…) << The boys pick at their food and sometimes they only take one bite. And when asked a serious question, our oldest usually spins a tall tale for us instead of telling us anything about his day. His school could be renting him out as child labor and I would have NO idea because he tells me nothing.
So we don’t have it all together. If you have found the secret fix for mealtime madness, please share with the rest of us! My husband and I are anxiously awaiting the day when we get to give them seconds, but until then, we have picked up a few tricks along the way and stashed them in our sleeves. They have been very helpful in helping us keep a grasp on our sanity … perhaps you will find them helpful as well!
They all follow the same theme: A dash of grace makes mealtimes more sane!
1) RELAX. They’re kids.
We used to get angry and frustrated when we had to continuously tell our boys to sit back in their chairs, but we have loosened up considerably and have found mealtimes much more enjoyable as a result.
Kids are wiggly. <—Obvious. Their bodies aren’t designed to sit still for a quiet one-hour conversation at dinnertime. When our expectations of their behaviour are realistic, we can all enjoy ourselves a little bit more. The “get back in the chair” becomes a light-hearted reminder rather than a gruff disciplinarian bark.
There are two expectations in particular that we have had to re-think:
A) our boys will be hungry at every meal
My 2 year old is hungry all morning, but come afternoon/evening, his tank is full. Children, especially small children, don’t have the same eating patterns as adults. Their appetites even differ from child to child. I have one that can’t handle food until 10 am, and another that wakes up starving.
B) they will be predictably hungry from day to day
Young children go through times when they are ravenous, and entire weeks where they barely eat a thing. Recognizing that this is normal can help take some of the stress off you. I haven’t hit the “always hungry” stage yet, although I expect that comes with its own set of unpredictable eating behaviours!
2) MAKE IT FUN.
Our eldest is a fantastically picky eater, a trait he seems to have shared with his youngest brother. Rather than force-feeding them, we have found that it works much better to make eating into a game. I’m sure you have tried a few of these as well. If you have one that works well, please share it with me!
These are the games that have worked especially well with our boys:
- The “don’t eat that!” game. It seems obvious, but the boys think it’s hilarious, and they end up eating their food just to hear my horrified gasp. (TIP: Don’t play this game with food in your mouth. The horrified gasp is a choking hazard! Ask me how I know …)
- The “save that food for me” game. I ask my son to store a forkful of food in his mouth for me, and tell him that I’ll come back for it in a couple minutes to claim it. When I turn away, it almost always disappears down the hatch, and the child gleefully presents his empty mouth. Genius, I tell you.
3) ASK THEM QUESTIONS.
By the time supper rolls around, I am usually much more interested in having a political discussion with my husband than in tying together the threads of random thoughts with my boys. Unfortunately, when we have those very adult conversations, they are much more likely to act up! (Or require the aforementioned tape.)
We have found that it helps to have regular questions that we pull out when we sense them drifting away from the conversation. We simply ask our kids to share a high and low from the day, but if you’re up for deeper conversation, here’s a fabulous list of ideas from Focus on the Family.
4) PULL OUT THE BIBLE.
I know there are many families that do this after dinner, but dinnertime is not our sweet spot. Instead, we use the Bible in the mornings. The slightly zoned-out children quietly eat while I read to them, and we often engage in some very interesting conversation afterward, once we are all fully awake.
Suggested mealtime devotional readings: (affiliate links)
The Purpose Driven Life for Kids by Rick Warren (just $1.99 for Kindle at the time of this post!)
Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones
I once got my 3 year old, who doesn’t sit at the table… I mean he sort of tries… Anyway, I got him to eat once by letting him do a lap around the house and then coming back down to take a bite and then he could run another lap around the house. It worked! I’ve only ever done it once, but I’m considering reinstating it. My husband didn’t like it. He is very strict and thinks things need to be just so… ALL THE TIME. Kids are kids. They do need discipline, but I think they need a little wiggle room too…
I think that sometimes you just do what works! We have been known to make a certain child run the stairs 10x in the middle of a meal as well. 🙂