Five Words To Help You Survive Dinner Time

10679568_10203880277040358_3818669094069327890_oDinner tonight: Roasted broccoli with sea salt. Grilled chicken with garlic rub. Grilled orange and yellow sweet peppers. Toasted cheese rolls. Remoulade to make little sandwiches. I put this meal together in light of what was in the fridge, which ingredients needed to be cooked and by when, informed by general principles of “eat more color,” “50% veggies, 25% lean protein, 25% carb” etc etc etc.

While G and I nommed and yummed over our sandwiches, Vivi ate two rolls and some chicken, but separately. Carlos ate one roll…eventually.

My son is in the 50th percentile for weight, always has been. How does he stay there? Hell if I know. From what I can tell, he thrives on a diet of oyster crackers, fench fies, bananas with a light frosting of dog hair, and good will.

Carlos is my third kid, so I’ve learned some lessons along the way. When I met my step-daughter, Victoria, she was a six year old picky eater. No green grapes, only red grapes. Chicken nuggets, never chicken strips. Macaroni and cheese but only the blue box, not the homemade kind.  Apples had to be sliced with the little kitchen gadget slicer, not unevenly with a knife.


G and I have been through the parental dinner time dilemma about what to control and what to let go. Every kid presents different challenges. I got some great advice from a nutritionist a few years ago and it has helped us find peace at the dinner table.

Keep five words in mind when it comes to feeding your kids: WHEN, WHERE, WHAT, WHETHER and HOW MUCH (OK, six words).

WHEN: The grownups decide when to eat. Dinner is at 7 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. or 10 p.m., whatever your family needs. Kids come to the table when dinner is served. There will be some nights when we have to juggle, but parents don’t just make food and leave it sitting on the stove for whomever might graze by. This is part of that whole “family dinner time” thing that really does give us a chance to sit down together.

WHERE: Parents get to pick where the family eats. Not just “McDonalds or not” kind of decisions. I keep this principle in mind when it’s time to gather up at the table. Sure, there are nights when we eat in front of the TV, but 80% of the time, we sit around the table and listen to each other chew. Even on Chinese food delivery nights or picking up sandwiches for dinner, we’ll sit at the table together.

WHAT: This is the biggie. Grownups decide what will be served. On the way home from school the other night, I asked Carlos what he thought we should have for dinner. Before I could list the two options, he chirped, “Cu-cakes!” Duh. He would always pick cupcakes, every time. Parents cook ONE DINNER for the family. We know all that stuff about Recommended Daily Allowances of niacin, and that potatoes aren’t a vegetable, and what kind of protein was on sale this week at Kroger. We know which brand of noodles has hidden veggies (Ronzoni Garden Delight-the one in the green box) and which are packed with homophobia (Barilla-blue box). Parents decide WHAT to eat. This extends away from the dinner table too. Parents decide what snacks are available. Don’t complain to me that your toddler only eats candy corn. He didn’t drive to the store and buy that candy corn.

Now let’s look at the kids’ responsibilities at the dinner table.

WHETHER: Once you’ve done your part with deciding what to serve and where and when, let your kids decide whether or not to eat it.  You may have the “try one bite” rule, but let the kids decide what goes in their bodies. Saturday night, Vivi ate a cup of cherry tomatoes along with her dinner. Sunday night, she wouldn’t touch them. OK. This one gave me the most trouble when we first started using these principles. I wanted them to eat SOMETHING at dinner because I would be the one they’d nag later when they woke up hungry. But it’s important to be consistent. If my kids don’t eat what is served at dinner, they can have a handful of oyster crackers and some milk before bed. My brother tells his boys, “Maybe you’ll enjoy your next meal better.”

HOW MUCH: The kids decide how much they will eat of the food that you’ve served. We do remind Vivi that she can’t serve herself more yellow rice until she’s eaten what’s already on her plate. But no more Clean Plate Club. No more, “there are children starving in Ethiopia so you’d better eat that.” I hope that my kids will learn to follow their own body signals regarding when they are full and when they are still hungry.

So that’s what I learned from Wendy the Nutritionist–simple guidelines that have made our dinner table a more peaceful place. What do you do to survive dinner?

(I think I’ll write tomorrow about Dr. Sam Garrett’s Surefire Rule for Feeding Kids and Other Wild Animals…)

16 thoughts on “Five Words To Help You Survive Dinner Time

  1. kcourt40

    “…which brands are packed with homophobia…” OMG this made me spit out my Cheerios this morning and burst into laughter. (My children were horrified). I thought I was the only person that specifically avoided Barilla because of their anti-gay policies. It’s funny, because their pasta seems to *always* be on sale. I’m hoping that’s because their sales are low 🙂

    To your larger point – I loved this piece! I grew up in a home where the clean-plate rule was in full effect. Not so with own girls – for the same reasons you mention.

    1. Support

      EVERY week, I stand in the pasta aisle and try to remember. That’s why I just started buying the green box…I know it’s OK!

  2. Jessica

    Growing up in an 8-sibling household, we pretty much “et” whatever was in front of us; complaining only made mom retort that she wasn’t “a short-order cook!” We were allowed condiments to help choke down things we didn’t like, so I would drown lima beans in ketchup! The worst was liver and onions, which was (thank goodness) only on offer twice a year.

    Perhaps you can do a review of Adam Mansbach’s latest (/You Have to F*****g Eat/) as soon as it comes out!

  3. onetreenotaforest

    Sometimes I think you have a camera on me and are writing about my dysfunctional parenting ! It is great to know I am not alone. As this post made one of your readers spit Cheerios, this is what got my Cheerios a-flyin “(I think I’ll write tomorrow about Dr. Sam Garrett’s Surefire Rule for Feeding Kids and Other Wild Animals…)” !! Whether tomorrow or whenever, I cannot wait to hear a “Dr. Sammy” story. And I was thinking as I read this, we need a Joe story, too ! 🙂 Hugs my friend !

  4. Brett

    Ha ha ha hahahahahahhhahhahahhahhahahahhhahhahahhhaaaaahahahahhahahaha. I don’t even know where to start. I have two teenage boys that go seperate ways after school – and they are both “starving.” They will eat a pre dinner, dinner on the way home at some fabulous fast food restaurant. Once home, they are once again STARVING and can NOT BELIEVE that dinner isn’t ready at 4:59. And “is THIS what your cooking for dinner? You know that i hate that.” Now, since the 7 year old is standing there watching two older brothers sip some liquid cavities from a 2-liter, Styrofoam SONIC cup – he’s wondering why on earth he’s drinking water. SO.. dinner is cooking and i’m snatching oatmeal pies from my youngest and trying to keep everybody out of my one-ass kitchen. Dinner is served at WhateverTF time it comes out of oven. Husband who is self employed gets home anywhere from 5pm-10pm. Hmmmmm.. should we wait? Ha ha ha ha ahahahhahahhhhhaahahahahhhahhhha ha ha ha ha aha ha. On this particular night i cooked Lamb. Everybody hate’s it and i know this. So, WHY.. WHY would i cook something so disgusting? My 7 year old took one bite, looked at me and said “why are we eating somebody’s guts?” Good question. Why, indeed.

    1. Support

      I’m sorry–you lost me when you confessed that you fed LAMB to boys.

      What were you expecting??? (and the answer to that is: lots of leftovers!)

  5. Kelley Bowden

    My mom tried the “kids in Africa are starving” thing on me one time. She says I held my plate out and said “Here, send them this!”. She also says that is the very first time of many that she thought to herself “This one is going to be trouble”.

  6. Lisa in Athens

    I have no kids, so I only have me to please for dinner. I feed Leroy at the same time so I get most of my food consumed in peace before he comes to lay next to my feet (he gets the last bite.)
    I’m glad to know you and G don’t do the “short order cook” thing and that eating as a family is vital – we always did, growing up, and I think that helped our family stay close.

  7. Stacey

    For the most part we are in agreement – just a bit different on the clean plate thought. At our dinner table, if they put it on their plate they eat it. They dish their own plates and can always help themselves to more. I’m trying to get one child to think before dishing the plate up full. 🙂

  8. Debbie

    Oh the hours I had to sit at the table “until I cleaned my plate!” The horror of green peas and fyi you can not hide them in a glass of milk. Luckily I married a man who thinks everything I cook is his favorite – except beets and butter peas, so he’s not quite perfect.


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