Help me make dinner enjoyable

Avatar for karalash2000
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
Help me make dinner enjoyable
8
Tue, 06-13-2006 - 11:28pm

Hello,

I am a lurker, but have posted at various messageboards over the years. I am in need of advice, and hope you have some for me. I have a soon to be 7 yo dd and a 4.5 yo ds. They are great kids in so many ways, and I love them dearly, but I am at my wits end about their behaviour at the dinner table. So here goes my long winded description....

My philosophy about kids and food is 1) never make them finish their plates, let them stop when they are full 2) make sure there is at least one thing on the menu that they like 3) anything new or different must be tried (a real bite) before declining it. If they say they like it, they are expected to eat it (see 1). 4) Any special requests (2nd helping, item placed in special dish/cup, sauce on/off are tolerated. However, if it involves work for me, they are expected to finish that item. 5) Ask for their input on the menu. Lately I have been showing them pictures of food in cookbooks and asking them to choose what they want me to make.

I don't want to make food a battle, but that's where we are.

For months now my dd has been quite picky about food. She avoids many protein foods, and it seems she has never caught on to how to chew and swallow meat. I often serve fish and vegetarian meals, but I also serve real chicken (not just the processed kind that requires no chewing - like she wants) and real pork and real beef. I feel like I am constantly hounding her to "eat some protein, your muscles need it". Surely a 7 yo needs more that 1/2 an oz of meat at a meal? She is also the queen of "what is that? It looks gross" and "I don't like that" etc. etc.

However, the main issue I have is that the kids yap, sing, and play instead of eating. I can't stand sitting at the table for 45 minutes when all that's in front of them is a burrito and a glass of milk. And they love burritos!!!

Tonight I completely lost it. After asking them at least 5 times to "finish you dinners" I forced them to drink their cold (because we had been sitting there for 45 minutes) soup (which they both said "yum" to) and actually said "I don't expect you to finish your dinner but you WILL drink your GD soup". Yep, I swore at them. I'm sure the neighbours heard it all. I feel like the worst mother in the world.

I also told them from now on, things were going to be different. I'm not offering any more choices. They get what I put in front of them, with no input on the menu from them. I told them they would have a maximum of 15 minutes to eat and that once the time was up, their plates are going to the dog or chickens. And, (and this one is so not me) they are no longer allowed to sit at the table together.

All I really want is dinners like I had growing up. My family would laugh and talk and eat whatever mom cooked. It was always fun. How do I get there from here??!!

Do I totally back off, put a plate in front of them and walk away when I'm done? Am I unrealistic to expect my kids to accept their meals without whining about why they don't want it? Shouldn't they show a little (just a little) appreciation for the meals?

DH, on the other hand, never fails to say thanks when he sits down to eat. He never complains in front of the kids about what I serve, and if he really dislikes it he will tell me later. He is not picky at all and shows enthusiasm for new dishes. In other words, he is a good role model (at least in this department). We are a united front on what we expect from the kids as well.

Please tell me what to do. I am at my wits end. Both kids went to bed crying tonight and I may just do the same.

Sue

iVillage Member
Registered: 08-31-2004
Wed, 06-14-2006 - 2:47am

I hear you, Sue! :)

Perhaps this age is just a hard one for the manners department. I have a seven year old and a four and a half year old, and my husband and I are finding that we have to get a little tough about our dinner table expectations if any of us want to enjoy the meal. This has been so surprising for me because my kids have always been complimented for their table manners - but no more!

For us the whining would start even before we sat down as my son and daughter tried to work out who was sitting next to Daddy and who was sitting next to Mommy. And sitting kitty-corner did NOT work for them. I was getting so irritated at just this one negative aspect of our evening meal, that finally last week, we imposed assigned seating.

I have also been quicker lately to remind the kids about their manners and their expectations about cleanliness. They get 'spoken to' now about picking up their food with their fingers (when it is not finger food) and then wiping their hands on their clothes. (Hello? They have a napkin RIGHT in front of them!)

Curiously, my four year old daughter has better manners then my seven year old son. I think this is in part due to the experience he has enjoyed all year of eating lunch at school with 'all his rowdy friends' (who, for you Hank Williams fans are NOT 'coming over tonight!') and also because his little mouth is such a mess with loose teeth everywhere and a few humongous adult snaggle teeth thrown in just to really screw him up. However, HOWEVER! He is still seven and a half years old and he is perfectly capable of learning and using good, decent manners. I do not wish to hear stories about farting and burping at the table, nor do I want to hear ACTUAL farting or burping at the table. Nice dinner conversation is welcome, but silly jokes that no one gets and wiggling uncontrollably with his sister are NOT.

I have used the old, "Oh you must be all finished with your dinner." statement, when I see him leap convulsively to his feet with his mouth full for no good reason except to dance around. I usually give him one chance and then dinner really is over for him. I have also threatened to invoke the "Laura and Mary" rule, which is from the Little House on the Prarie books. Apparently the rule for those sweet little girls was no talking at the dinner table AT ALL unless an adult speaks to you first. I thought that sounded so harsh when I read the books as a child, but now I see its merits! The kids know I am joking when I say this, but it usually gets the point across. Because, oh my gosh, what if Mom and Dad really DID make that rule????

We have also played the Manners Game. You put ten pennies on the table in front of each person's plate and whenever anyone notices someone else using poor manners, they get to reach over and steal a penny from them. The person at the end of dinner with the most pennies wins.

I don't know if I have given you any helpful advice - maybe just empathy. My kids do alright if I stay on top of them, and I get the impression that they geniunely do try to behave, they are just tired and at the end of their day, just like I am. So tempers are bound to flare a little bit. I try to praise them when I see them do something spectacular, like cut off a piece of their fish stick before eating it instead of putting the WHOLE thing in their mouth all at once.** I think that this stage will pass and then dinner will be nicer for everyone. At least, I sure hope so!

Susan

**This evening during dinner my son (the seven year old) said "So Mom, do you notice anything different about me?" And I was staring at him, thinking, did he lose another tooth or something? And my son says, "Mom! I am wiping my hands on my NAPKIN instead of my jammies!" And then I had to fake falling out of my chair in surprise and shock. (Because it WAS surprising and shocking!)

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Registered: 06-08-2006
Wed, 06-14-2006 - 10:49am

Hi Sue,

Dinner can be sooo frustrating! I have a 6 1/2 year old dd and a 9 1/2 year old ds. We go through the same things. My ds is very picky. He'll ask what's for dinner and then say yuck. So now when he asks, I'll say "I'm not telling you, because I don't want to hear that you won't like it".

I also try and make sure there is something everyone likes on the table. If they don't finish their dinner they can't expect to get anything else until the next day . I know this sounds harsh, however, we DO NOT load their plates with food. A little of everything and I know they can finish it. If they do take too much and are full, that's okay. We certainly don't want to be tyrants and cause food issues later in life.

I actually called my pediatrician a couple of years ago about ds because he wouldn't eat anyting. He hates all veggies and fruits (except Strawberries). The nurse in the office said to let him eat what he likes, but that he has to make healthly choices as well. He's getting better about trying new things. He is expected to eat veggies at dinner. He started karate recently and of course (yeah!) they stress eating healthy to help build muscle and feel good, etc. So I think this has made a big impact on him.

I'm lucky my dd likes to eat a wide variety of food, however sometimes she watches ds and copies his habits. She is reminded to be herself and eat what she likes not what other people are eating, not eating, etc.

If they fooling around starts at the the table, they get a warning. If they don't stop, their plate is taken away and they are done for the night. I believe this only happened once with my dd and then she listened. She likes to graze and if she can't eat, she's not a happy camper. It really made me feel bad when she asked for something later that night, but I had to say no and stick to my guns. The next night, no fooling at the table and she ate all her dinner.

I think there are just so many choices these days for kids. I too remember as a kid, sitting at the table and eating what was put in front of me.

I guess we need to just keep plugging along and do our best.

Good luck!
Cathy

Avatar for karalash2000
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
Wed, 06-14-2006 - 3:22pm

Thanks Cathy and Susan,

Now that morning is here, everything seems so much better. Both kids were wonderful this morning, and my little guy is a joy today. We talked about what happened last night. They both understand how angry and frustrated I was. My ds told me I was "a little mean". Now that is an understatement.

I think I will take a deep breath before dinner tonight, calmly remind them of the rules, and try and enjoy.

It's nice to know that I'm not the only mother who expects good behaviour at the table. In my opinon there are too many parents out there that forget that we are the parents, not the friends of our children and it is our job to raise them to be good people.

Wish me luck tonight.

Sue

iVillage Member
Registered: 06-08-2006
Wed, 06-14-2006 - 5:25pm

Hi Susan,

It's so true that everything seems better in the morning. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I worry about this or that (nothing huge), but when the sun comes up, I feel like anything is possible.

It is a daily battle to gear our kids in the right direction. But it's a battle I refuse to give up.

Good luck!
Cathy

iVillage Member
Registered: 08-31-2004
Wed, 06-14-2006 - 5:53pm

Sue:

Can you ask your mom what she did to promote those happy family dinners that you remember? Maybe she has some advice for all of us!

Susan

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Avatar for karalash2000
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Registered: 03-27-2003
Wed, 06-14-2006 - 7:32pm

Funny you should ask that Susan! I was just talking to my mom about last night and she said "Why don't you separate them?" I laughed out loud and told her that I told the kids that's exactly what was going to happen.

My parents were strict about most things (just ask my 16 yo nephew and 14 yo niece whom my parents looked after while my sister and bil were on holidays). Dad was military, and we were taught that you respect your elders, never talk back and basically do as you are told. There was a lot of love in our home, but lots of expectations too. If we misbehaved at the table (usually consisted of too much laughing) we were sent to our rooms to calm down. Food was never an issue. We all loved to eat, and none of us were picky. Mom catered very little to us with respect to menu. She would give us frozen veggies instead of cooked if we asked, and didn't force my sister to eat cooked carrots (only raw for her) or mushrooms which she hated. That was it. I ate everything and since there were a few of us and not much money, we ate quickly with the hopes we would get 2nds.

Also, I'm the youngest. The others were already whipped into shape (figuratively, not literally lol) by the time I remember anything. I followed my siblings examples.

Anyway - to sum up, they expected us to behave, and followed up on what they said.

Although I am usually really good about sticking to what I say, I think I am going to give them one more chance to behave. If they don't, there will be a private table in the kitchen waiting.

Hoping your dinners are peaceful, fun and happy. I'll let you know how it goes here. Currently, they are a bit hyper as I let them lick the icing off the beaters. What was I thinking!! LOL

Sue

iVillage Member
Registered: 01-07-2004
Fri, 06-16-2006 - 10:51am
hello!! i remember my sister and i were pains at dinner growing up-especially me. i was like your dd-i didnt like red meat and very rarely ate all my potatoes or veggies. i would eat all my chicken if we had chicken and i loved mac and cheese...but that was about it. i didnt even like pizza or spaghetti...like i said, i was BAD. as far as choices that your dd will eat, theres protien in a lot of foods, not just meat, so as long as she eats enough during the day, i wouldnt really stress out. you could also give your kids a multivitamin, like flintstones or centrum kids-that way you know theyre getting their vitamins even if they dont eat that great. try making casseroles and salads too...that way you can put in meat and it wont be so bad for your dd. as far as your blow up at the dinner table the night you posted, it happens. you just lost your temper-dont beat yourself up over it...my best advice is let them continue to give you choice on the menu...let them feel invovled that way...but do the time limit thing. but instead of 15 minutes, give them a half hour after you sit down. we have my sister in law and her family living with us so we have 8 people at dinner time...what we do is give the kids their food first, then the adults get theirs. so get the kids theirs first and then get yours. from the time you sit down, tell them they have 1/2 hour. after you finish, look at the clock and maybe say something like "you guys have about 10 minutes left..." then give them a 5 minute grace period. get up from the table and tell them youre going to straighten up the kitchen and then you expect them to be done...do what you have to do then clear their dishes. they just have to realize you mean business...and youre not going to starve them by giving them that time limit. it may take a week or a lil more, but eventually you guys will get it. and youll have the meals that you remember-but it will just take a lil bit-your kids are still young...theres still plenty of time to work on table manners and eating their food and not being pains about it...good luck!!!
JOANNE
MAMAN2GOONS@AOL.COM
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
Sat, 06-24-2006 - 2:55pm

It's funny how we all go through the same kinds of things, isn't it?

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