Dinner Woes

Warning. You have just entered a venting zone

I hate mealtimes in our house. Dinner mostly and in a descending order all the way down to breakfast which admittedly isn’t all that bad.

Before I go any further with my complaints, let me just put it out there that I take responsibility for the lack of training and poor food discipline my children have. BUT…

D isn’t home for dinner during the week….he gets home anywhere from 5:45 (absolute earliest) to 6:45pm. The kids are usually hungry around 5pm, so I have dinner ready then and I usually eat with them sometime between 5 and 5:30pm. But, oh how I long for quiet child free dinners. I am so tired of the mess. I find managing the three of them for a meal overwhelming. It’s a bit better when D’s home for dinner.

My children are particularly fidgetty at the table and find it hard to stay on their chairs. At least twice every meal I have to remind one if not both of them to not stand on their chairs. One night as a joke (kind of) I took a couple of large strips of velcro and strapped them to their chairs. They thought it was hilarious to have a seat belt at the table.

The baby often shouts his way through dinner and still hasn’t mastered feeding himself particularly well, so unless I want to have more food on the carpet than in his tummy, he requires almost constant attention. Until recently when he’d finished he would hurl the bowl over the side of his high chair regardless of what was left inside it.

They are also messy eaters. I can’t remember the last time we got through dinner without food or water being spilled on the table and/or the floor. I usually have to vacuum the floor afterwards, particularly after rice. (Which I tend to leave for at least a couple of hours – preferably a day or so, and vacuum up when it’s dry and crunchy again. Believe me, I know all about vacuuming food scraps. Dried weet-bix tends to stick to the carpet quite badly incidentally).

I hardly see a completely empty bowl in a week, unless it contained ice cream. They are fussy. The girl doesn’t like anything remotely spicy (even plain sausages are spicy for her, and tomato sauce has her asking for water to drink). The boy doesn’t like vegetables. The girl doesn’t like meat. Reminds me of Jack Sprat and his wife.

Tonights meal of Beef Casserole and Rice. These are the leftovers of the three children.

I’ve tried not to pander too much to their fussiness, thinking that if I just serve up what ever I plan for the family’s dinner, that’s what they should eat. I appreciate there are the odd things a person has a genuine aversion to, but generally I reckon they should eat what they are given. Our meals a pretty child friendly most of the time anyway. Simply prepared foods. But this isn’t working because if it’s something they don’t like they just don’t eat it. Which in one way is their problem, but is quite demoralising for me. Honestly, what’s the point? Maybe they should just have cheese sandwiches 5 nights a week. Oh, wait, then they don’t eat their crusts and the boy really doesn’t eat sandwiches either.

And….I know this is a big part of my problem…… I give them ice cream for desert sometimes whether or not they’ve finished their food. I’m just a sucker really. I know my problem is because I’m always too lenient with them regarding food.

Help! I so dislike eating with them that I try to get the whole experience over with as fast as possible. Oh, and then no one helps clean up. I’m left with the mess and usually feel so depressed by the whole experience that I run away and hide (and write a long whingy blog post about it while the mess sits there alone in the kitchen and the kids dance to the radio in the lounge).

The problem is I really think family mealtimes are important and precious, especially as the children get older. It would be nice if we could actually have opportunity to talk. I know it should/could be better. How can I fix this? I probably know what you’re all going to say, but say it anyway. It might help to get my head straight, and give me the resolve to change something. (That was a cry for help by the way, so let the comments roll.)

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8 thoughts on “Dinner Woes

  1. I would get that velcro out again and sit them down and tell them you are not happy about their behaviour and that from now on you are going to strap them in

    I would also tell them icecream is only for pudding if and only if they finish their dinner nicely

    You need to get and stay firm

    maybe write a big note up saying and in picture form if necessary what you plan to do
    show the children
    and then when it turns to custard say right this says no pudding if your dinner isnt eaten nicely

    You need to be FIRM
    and consistent

    dont give in not even once
    from now on
    dont be a sucker for crying neither

    I promise if you do all this
    and stick to it
    it will get better

    Jen….your comment made me laugh, but you’re right, ‘they wooon’t git their puddin’ if they dooon’t eeat their meeeat’

  2. babe, i hear you.
    i am possibly a silly person to ask, as we’ve chopped and changed our dinner expectations throughout our years with the 5kiwis as we’ve grown up and relaxed into our own family vibe.

    back in the dark ages, i would set the table with fabric napkins and we would all “stand on ceremony”. i even remember trying to get one of my toddlers to sit through dinner and she (i’ve given it away now) would squawk or whatever and i would take the whole highchair into the lounge until she stopped etc. looking back, i think that was way too confontational, but i was young and my expectations were high.

    so, firstly i would suggest (oooh i am feeling myself having a reaction to “giving advice”, but you did ask) that you designate one or two nights a week to having a special candlelit dinner for just you and hubby, when all the kiddos are in bed and you rediscover your dinner mojo. perhaps cook them pancakes and peaches (or whatever is their fave) and make something more adventurous for the grown-ups. hopefully you’ll rediscover your love of dinner!

    i forget exactly how old your littles are: five and under? so you do have *years* ahead of you for wonderful dinner memories to be made. it’s a learning thing, and to be honest, at this stage of our lives at the kiwihouse, we often eat a rushed dins at the breakfast bar while waiting to pick someone up/someone to arrive home etc… but my kiddos haven’t forgotten the Dinner Table Vibe… we have dinner all together once or twice a week, and do lots of fun stuff then.

    i am a great believer in good table manners (wait until the chef is seated and gives the All Clear to start, thankfulness, politeness etc) and a huge amount of *fun* at the table is mandatory here. loud joke-telling, little high little low etc.

    i would perhaps offer dessert as an incentive… i do ask my peeps to try something new, maybe two wee bits of broccoli/mushrooms etc “because you might like it this time” (eg i hated courgettes as a kid, but now my palate has matured and i love ’em)… we have a family saying from my childhood: “if grown-ups like it, it must be nice!”
    and i remind my kiddos that it’s more respectful to the chef to say something like “spicy sausies aren’t my favourite.” rather than, “ewwww this is yucky, mum!”

    the last thing i would offer is that i try to keep a note in my head of fruit and veggies that my kids have eaten over the whole day so that i don’t stress about the dinner-intake. some of my kiddos are huge brekkie-eaters, some graze all day… the unschooler in me is emerging lol, but i really try to keep mealtimes fun and familyish and not stress about who is eating what.

    i’m sure my comment is longer than your post lol. but then i am r-a-t-h-e-r verbose. it’s a surprise that anyone can get a word in edgeways at the table…
    mwah X

    Kate, your whole entire gracious comment was helpful, but especially the bit about rediscovering my love for dinner! I’m feeling quite motivated to plan some nice ‘grown up’ food for D and I a couple of times a week. Thanks for reminding me!

  3. I totally know what you are talking about! We have 4 kids aged 5, 4, 3 and about to turn 2. (they were all under 3 1/2)

    I remember before we had kids we would go to our best friends house, they had 4 young kids and EVERY time a drink would get spilt. I was NEVER going to put up with that! Hahaha!!!!!

    Here are my tips…. My kids are in no way perfect, but they do sit still, kind of!

    – As Kate said, have dinner with your hubby at least 2 times a week. I do an easy meal for the kids ( The absolute fave is breakfast for dinner!!!) and then i make an adult dinner for us. Something that the kids don’t enjoy normally, think spicy, messy etc!

    – our 3 y/o sits on a booster seat (a crappy second hand base with no cover!). It locks him in and helps to remind him that we stay sitting at the table.

    – our almost 2 y/o is still in a high chair and is still not that skilled at feeding himself and yes, he likes to yell. We consisently remind him what voice to use, how to use his spoon etc.

    – realize that someone WILL spill a drink!!!!

    – Serve tiny amounts and expect them to eat it. You can serve them more! I think we often over estimate how much kids really need to eat at dinner time.

    – Our kids are expected to try foods too. Because as Kate pointed out, one day you might just like it!!!

    – we also use the “it’s not my favourite” line, rather than “eeeeeewwww”
    It is slightly less offensive!

    – Could you try letting them help with dinner?

    – At the end of the meal we expect the kids to sit, say “thank you for the dinner Mummy, please can we ‘scuse the table?” and then carry their plate to the bench.

    – Now, chores…… Each of my kids (except the youngest) has their own SPECIAL job. Yes, we call it special! 5 y/o unpacks the dishwasher. (she is so proud of herself!) 4 y/o takes all the washing off the indoor line, and 3 y/o puts the rubbish in the bin etc. By giving them their own jobs they feel needed and responsible.

    One last idea –

    tonight our 4 y/o threw a party for us. She chose the dinner, decorated the table (with toys, cut up paper, candle etc) and sang us a song. We are going to let one of them do it each week. She was so proud of herself and it was really fun! It took a bit to let go and let her “decorate” freely, but, it was worth it to see her face!

    Please know that meal times ARE stressful with little kids ESPECIALLY by your self, but it has to get better!

    PS, one more suggestion, could you feed the little one and keep the big ones going until Daddy got home? We have dinner anytime between 5.30 and 6.30. Our little one will often sit and nibble or drink a bottle even if he has alreay eaten.

    Jess, nice to meet you! I’ve popped over to your blog, thanks for the visit, and the very helpful comment. I realised yesterday that in an attempt to encourage a good appetite, I’ve been serving wayyyy tooo much food, so I’m going to go back to really tiny amounts. They are by no means starving so that will help me not to stress so much about the wasteful leftovers. Like you said they can always ask for more. My 5 yo is now helping with the dishwasher, and takes out the recycling, and the three y.o. is taking otu the rubbish. Thanks again!

  4. Oh, I could have written your post… I haaaaaate eating dinner without my husband. A couple of random ideas for you then:

    – My hubby gets home at 6pm, too, and sometimes a bit later. Of course, the kids are starving by 3 or 4 o’clock, so we have a little “tea” then (well, I have coffee!). It’s just a light snack, usually some fruit or raw veges, maybe some nut mix, etc. We do that right before we start making dinner. Then, we sit down with Daddy for dinner together later when he gets home. They don’t eat as much, but they are hungry enough to sit thru the meal, and it makes for a [mostly] pleasant family evening.

    – Have them help make dinner. Even if they’re just stirring something, or getting out a slice of bread, getting them involved will get them a lot more interested in the whole mealtime thing.

    -Have them help set the table. Maybe you can get the older ones to make place cards with everyone’s names written on them. Treat it like a special meal (it is!) and make it fun. Use pretty napkins. Put out flowers or a candle.

    -Start even before dinnertime. Let them help you plan the meals. Make a family cook book with pictures of your favorite recipes- even if you just cut out magazine or newspaper art. Or have the kids draw a cookbook with their favorite foods. Then, when it’s time to start dinner, they can open the cookbook up and pick out their favorite. (Or, if you want more control, you can pick out the recipe and show it to them). Let them anticipate it a little more. Maybe try planning a couple of meals with them and the cookbook early in the week, and then have them help with the shopping list, grocery shopping, etc. I read a clever idea where the mum and kids sat down with scissors and the grocery store circulars and they cut out pictures of their shopping list, glued them onto cards, and then had a “treasure hunt” with the cards at the store. The point is just to let the kids get involved in the whole food thing on as many levels as possible.

    – At mealtime, put only a tiny amount of food on their plates at one time. I was in the bad habit of making up my kids’ plates with almost as much food as hubby or I would eat. It’s overwhelming to them and just asking to be knocked on the floor. Give them just a bit, and let them ask for more.

    -More on the getting them involved part: one of our favorite dinners is family pizza party. I make a pizza shell for each person and then we have a bunch of bowls full of toppings. Let them pile on the toppings themselves, then have “appetizers” (we usually have fruit again) while the pizzas bake. Or have a taco party. Etc.

    -If you’re eating alone with them, maybe try making it more casual. When it’s just me and the girls, I usually serve things appetizer-style: sandwiches cut up into bite-sized pieces; slivers of fruit; veggies cut into sticks; etc. Everything is finger-food. And I put it all on one platter on the table. No plates. No silverware. It feels like a party.

    Just some ideas.

    I totally hear you on the rice, by the way. I leave it for at least a day, otherwise it just sticks and is impossible to clean up. What is weet-bix?

    Hey MM….I’ve been reading but badly neglecting commenting on other blogs lately, so sorry about that but nice to see you. Weet bix is breakfast cereal…I’ll try to link it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weet-Bix There you go….wikipedia was more helpful that their own homepage.
    Thanks for your helpful comments. My kids love to cook, so will do that more too.

  5. Oh, dear. What mother has not been there? Especially with the food on the floor. The floor around my table is nasty after every single meal, no matter what I feed them. And yes, feeding a baby who can’t self-feed yet is nothing but a pain. It takes forever and you can’t take time to feed yourself.

    The thing that has worked best for me: not giving in on dessert or snacks after meals if they have chosen not to eat what was served. I felt horribly guilty about this policy at first because I didn’t want them to be walking around hungry…but being hungry for a couple hours until the next meal honestly won’t kill them. I try to be reasonable about this, allowing for certain dislikes–after all, I hate bananas and I’d rather go hungry than eat them at all. But if it’s a meal that is something simple and kid-friendly and they still choose not to eat it? Well, that’s their choice. They just have to pay the consequences, which is hunger afterward. And often, they really don’t act hungry afterward. They seem to go through phases where they don’t eat enough to keep a flea alive, and then other times they are wolfing down huge meals three times a day. I don’t make them eat a food if they say they don’t like it, but they have to at least TRY everything I’ve made.

    I also tell them not to comment on things they don’t like (no saying “This is yucky!” etc.) but to just not eat if they don’t like it and only comment on the parts they DO like. It’s much more encouraging to hear little voices saying that rice is delicious, even if all you did was boil it on the stovetop, than to hear them telling you the main dish you slaved over is gross.

    Good luck! As another commenter pointed out, you have many more years ahead for good dinnertime memories. Toddler years are just a little difficult (that’s what I tell myself, anyway!)

    Thanks Jen. I have really appreciated everyones comments. I’ve decided to give up on trying to feed the baby at myself at the same time, as well as supervising the other two. And they’d be so happy with plain rice. They both love it lol.

  6. You know I think your kids and how they manage dinner sound totally normal!

    My main aim with dinner is not to make food into an ‘issue’. I will not use food as a bribe or reward, I will not make food into an emotional issue for my kids. I want them to grow up with an understand of what is healthy, not with underlying emotional issues about food and eating.

    So with that main aim I also like dinner to be time spent together – so we try and make it a bit special. My four year olds set the table (they choose which forks etc that they want). We sometimes have a candle or flowers on the table and recently they helped me sew a special cloth napkin for everyone. We’ve also manipulated our routine so that we all eat dinner together, even though that means not eating until my DH gets home at 6:30. I will give them a lateish afternoon tea to tide them over till dinner and they have a bath before dinner.

    We also try to include the kids in meal times – in the food choices, preparations, setting up and cleaning up. It is not really seen as ‘work’ in our house more as something everyone just does.

    My expectation is that they join us at the table, that they speak nicely and join in socially. That is it. Like you I try to cook meals that everyone will eat, meals with a few options, but that really isn’t possible all the time, but it’s no big deal if someone doesn’t want to eat what I serve up. They just say ‘no thanks’ and leave it on their plate.

    I offer small servings – large servings of food can really intimidate a child, especially a picky eater. Everyone will feel happier if you give only a small serving but the bowl comes back almost empty. They can always have seconds if they want more.

    I don’t ever withhold desert, regardless of if they have eaten anything before that or not. I try to make desert something healthy – another healthy option so that even if they don’t eat the main meal they still have something healthy in their bellys – though sometimes we lash out and have cake etc and everyone gets it no matter what. It is not a reward or bribe for having eaten.

    Sometimes my girls go through a picky phase – right now Izzy refuses to eat potatoes in any shape or form, and for a while she would only eat if there was something pink on her plate. Zoe, uses her lack of teeth (she knocked out her three front teeth last year) as a reason not to eat anything hard or spikey, unless she likes it of course. So we have meals where one or both choose not to eat anything much, but in general they always eat something. No child has ever starved themselves when there has been healthy food on offer and not having the pressure on to eat or on me to get them to eat just makes it a nicer time all round

    Muski is just like your little one. He makes a HUGE mess, he likes to rub food in his hair, he chucks his bowl from the high chair…. but then he is only one… so I kind of expect it to be pretty much like that for a while yet.

    Anyway – I guess I am kind of saying the opposite to what everyone else is saying but what struck me most about your post is that you wanted meals to be a nice family time… for us, by removing the pressure on eating we don’t get any ‘I hate this’ tantrums (well not many) and no ‘I want deserts’ and generally everyone is happy to have dinner, as well as to help clean up the mess… and without the pressure to eat, everyone does almost all the time.

    But then you have to do whatever works best for you and your family.. so do feel free to write me off as a total nutter.. I won’t be offended.. promise!

    Hey, you’re not a nutter! I started out with similar ideas about food. I never made a fuss over it with E5 when she was younger and by and large she’s a good eater. My B3 though is a little trickier. Where as with E5 if she doesnt’ want to eat, that’s fine, I leave her and it ok. With B3, sometimes he refuses to eat, but then has Major Meltdowns because he’s hungry, and it’s really hard to deal with his behaviour because it’s largely hunger related. For that reason, I’ve taken a more “I’m your mother, you’re three years old, and I know what’s best for you, so you will eat at least something” approach.
    At the same time, I see what you’re getting at, and if they eat some fruit and vege snacks throughout the day, dinner isn’t the be all and the end all. And yes, the do go through stages that they eat less.
    And, my servings have been too big. thanks for your comments.

  7. Guys, you’re all flippin’ legends. I feel so much better about the whole thing. Last night I relaxed a whole lot. Fed the little one early (16 months) and the big kids waited until dad came home. Every one was good, and I think it was just because I was relaxed. They ate well, and didn’t even spill anything lol. I think when I wrote this post I was feeling generally overwhelmed and out of control.

    I’ve chatted to the kids, and got them helping with the dishwasher, and things are better already.

    Thanks everyone!

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