August decided for about a week he was a cat. Ate all his dinners off a plate on the floor. Then one day he stopped. Never did figure out why. But every meal was three members of the family leisurely eating our meals and August plowing through his food like he hasn’t eaten in a month. Or like he may never eat again. Some days there would barely be any space between the edge of his plate and his mouth. And it never changed. And a half an hour later he’d swear he was starving. So I was in a constant search for something I could do that would mean winning family meal time.
In today’s over-scheduled world, just getting the whole family around the table at the same time is a triumph. I remember growing up that when my sister and I both became teenagers, everyone at the dinner table became more and more rare. The kitchen floor would be littered with notes from me to mom and mom to dad and my sister to dad informing each other of our whereabouts and pick up times. Remember this was pre-cell phones folks!
When the boys came along, we tried to be good about having regular family dinners. It was important for us to have that time together. We made a big deal about August eating his food and he would enjoy our attention. But very soon after getting comfortable with us, food became part of his battle for control.
I remember one night that we had some sort of meat and August didn’t want to eat it. He put a bit in his mouth but wouldn’t swallow it. That one bite of meat got bigger and bigger and it was maybe half an hour or more we did battle to get him to just swallow. I was afraid he would choke. But food was something he wanted to control. I’m sure it stemmed from lack of food in the time before he was removed from his birth home when he was barely fed and it broke my heart.
On another occasion I was getting dinner ready and August came asking for something to eat. I told him dinner was almost ready and he could wait. He threw a fit and screamed, “You never feed me!” Again my heart broke because obviously that wasn’t the case but he definitely was drawing on some old repressed memories.
So how can we go about winning family meal time? I am going to focus on dinner because with kids in school lunches are rough and mornings tend to be an all out sprint (though a big breakfast on the weekend is my favorite meal!) Here are some ideas:
- Include the kiddos in meal planning on Sunday: Letting them be involved in what will be on the menu for the week greatly increases the chances they will be on board when it gets served later. Now of course you ultimately get veto power so it won’t be five days of pizza, but getting buy-in will help your job.
- Include the kiddos in cooking: August loves to cook. He would sometimes ask to cook a whole meal himself when he got older. I know, sometimes it’s easier to do it yourself but they get such pride when they help and again the buy-in helps with making sure they will eat. Plus doing things together is great for bonding!
- Make meal time technology-free: This is a big one if you have teenagers. No phones at the table, if there’s a TV within sight it gets turned off. Meal time can be a great time to engage in meaningful conversation about the days events, about the rest of the week, about the weekend. Anything that will get the whole family communicating together.
- Have ideas to talk about: I would always ask the boys about their day at school and what was their favorite part. That would have to be quickly followed by, “And don’t say lunch or recess.” Because otherwise those would always be the answers! I know some families who ask what is one good thing and one bad thing that happened that day. There are many ways to start conversations.
- Make sure kiddos help clean up: The boys were always responsible for their plates and cups. And they got great about automatically carrying them to the sink, rinsing them and putting them in the dishwasher. That also meant I had to have the dishwasher emptied of clean dishes so it motivated me as well!
There are a lot of ways to make winning family meal time easier. There are meal delivery services and grocery delivery services to cut your time down, particularly if you have a very scheduled house. I also found these ideas from MSN and this blog which had some good thoughts as well.
The bottom line is being together, communicating and having fun is winning family meal time. And sometimes that is all that needs to happen.
Until next time,