Making Meal Time Happen- With Everyone Smiling!

Getting a meal on the table for dinner is one thing, having everyone eat it without a meltdown is quite another.  Even though my kids are getting older, two of my three kids still say, “Do I HAVE to eat that?”  Translation- “That looks gross, can I make toast?”  Which makes everyone edgy, and dinnertime a disaster.  Some days, I’d rather we all eat at different times so I don’t have to listen to the complaining.

However, I know it’s important to press on!  New research has come out in the last decade that makes a good case for making dinnertime happen, even if you get resistance! The more families eat together, the healthier the kids are.

  1. Children who eat meals with their families have lower BMI.
  2. Families who ate meals together  were 50% more likely to have vegetables with dinner!
  3. Families who eat together develop strong parent child bonds
  4. Children with families that eat together do better academically.
  5. Children that are involved by setting the table, and clearing the dishes learn important skills.

So, how can you make it happen where everyone wants to participate, where the kids are jumping for joy when you say dinnertime, so you are making HAPPY memories for the future, and so no one is sent to bed hungry?   Here is what works for us, and what I’ve tried over the last 14 years with my kids! I’d love your ideas in the comments as well!

Getting dinner on the table:

  1. Keep it simple!  This one tip has helped me get dinner on the table more than any other.  If you plan ahead, or follow a meal plan, great! If not, throw some chicken in the oven with BBQ sauce and serve with rice and a green salad.  This requires almost no preparation! 
  2. Have breakfast for dinner- the one thing that brings my kids to the table with smiles is if we are serving waffles, pancakes, or scrambled eggs. Just don’t forget to add the fruit and vegetables.
  3. Use the slow cooker.  Slow cooker meals usually require very little preparation- dump ingredients and go! For sure you’ll eat dinner if you have something ready.
  4. Make a list of your 10 favorite last minute meals!  Ours include burritos, tacos, noodles and broccoli, quesadillas, sloppy Joes, sandwiches, eggs, English Muffin Pizzas, Frittatas, and fried rice!
  5. Get help!  If kids hanging on your legs makes it difficult to finish dinner, let them help you!  Washing, cutting, setting the table, etc.

Having Kids Excited About Dinner:

  1. Have a theme! Turn your dining room into a foreign country and make food from that country! We’ve got 9 countries on this post you can borrow from.
  2. Have everyone participate if you can.  For some families having breakfast together is easier than dinner. Whatever meal it is, try to have everyone present at least  once per week.
  3. Don’t over feed your poor children.  Do you find yourself serving up an adult size portion on your kids plates?  That one mistake alone has caused my children intense anxiety! It’s almost impossible to prevent a meltdown when they get too much of the food they think they hate.  Start small- 1 to 2 tablespoons for your toddlers to start with. You can always dish up more when they realize they enjoy a food.
  4. Relax! Your kids can feel your frustration, I promise! So, take a night off from nagging them too much, and instead enjoy the meal. If they don’t eat what you want them to eat, let it slide once in a while.  Your kids grow up so fast, just enjoy them.
  5. Play games! YES, why not?  SheKnows posted some fun dinner games here like, Finish The Story. Each person adds a sentence to the story and go around the table making it sillier and sillier.
  6. Have activity placemats.  You know how they have at restaurants? Make your own that you can draw on!  Laminate it and provide dry erase markers.  Some kids eat faster than others, and this way everyone can stay at the table. (google Activity Placemats to find some).  Or, purchase in bulk like you ARE a restaurant!
  7. Have an indoor picnic! My kids LOVE this- all you need is a big blanket and an open space. Eating dinner on  the floor always brings smiles to my kids.
  8. Post your meal plan for everyone, or tell kids ahead of time what you are planning to eat.  We keep our meal plan on the fridge so my kids know what to expect. This way, there is no last minute: “WHAT?? I Hate spaghetti” comments.
  9. Keep the time consistent.  Routines are good for kids.  Having dinner at the same time each night helps everyone know what time to be home and when they can hope to eat by.
  10. Limit snacking before dinner!  When my kids graze before dinner, they never want to eat the healthy food. When they come to the dinner table hungry, they eat everything I serve!

What ideas do you have to make dinner time less stressful? Please share!  Also, if you are just making it a goal to eat better, start with having dinner together on Family Day! 

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