Calming the Dinner Time Chaos: Part 2

In Calming the Dinner Time Chaos: Part 1, I shared how I was FED UP with the way our dinners were going. I could be “Zen Mama” all day long, but once we sat to dinner, if I wasn’t serving pasta with butter and cheese only, pizza with olives, or quesadillas, I’d be in for a battle! Until the book Dwelling: Living Fully from the Space You Call Home by Mary Beth Lagerborg inspired me to make a change. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, I suggest doing so now so you get where I’m coming from. 🙂

As I was thinking about how to solve our dinner time woes, I thought of how a classroom works. You need to have a plan. You need to have a focus, so as to keep the child engaged. I realized dinner time was a free for all, and that was spiraling out of control! So, now we have dinner time activities, which the kids look forward to!

1) Dinner Time Show and Tell Box. 

If the kids have something they want to share with the family, whether it’s an art project, a good report from a teacher, or a flyer for something they’d like to do, they put it in the Show and Tell Box. Each child can put ONE thing in the box per night, so they need to use decision making skills.  At the end of dinner, we take the things out of the box and take turns sharing them. It gives the kids an opportunity to share what is important to them without feeling like they are having to compete for our attention.

2) Blessing our food (We are TERRIBLE about doing this)

My dad still says the exact same prayer (at least when we are all together) as he did when we were kids. Like our answering machine message, which has been the same since the first answering machine used plain ol’ tapes, I knew it was expected for my parents to hold their hands out to “bless this food and us to Your service”. In our house, we ask if anyone would like to do the blessing. Middle usually chimes in with “Thank You, Heavenly Father for this food. We like food and we like to eat it. Amen.” It’s sweet, to the point, and honest. I love it.

3) Eating “Family Style”, even if it means more dishes to wash.

It feels pretty yucky to have slaved over a stove for an hour or more, only to have the kids start picking at their food before my rear hits the chair. There is usually the “Mom, I’ve already finished my water”, or a condiment that we’ve missed, which extends the length of my absence from the table. I’m not a servant. I am a part of the family, and we sit down TOGETHER to eat.

4) Dinner Time Conversation Box

This one warrants a post all of it’s own. Check again this evening (7pm PDT)!

5) Child created centerpiece

My kids, like many other kids, like collections. When we walk home from school, we invariably have a tagalong “sparkly rock” or “world’s biggest leaf”. I allow the kids to take turns decorating our table. There are a few parameters, though.

  1. We need enough space the eat
  2. You can’t play with the centerpiece, especially if you choose toys to put out.
  3. Little can’t be able to reach it.

6) Candles

Candles add a little sophistication to dinner, dontcha think? Plus, I love that the lighting of them signifies the start of dinner and the extinguishing of them is a close to the hour.

7) Cloth napkins

Cloth napkins save paper, are prettier, and feel more grown up to the kids. However, they are never to be used for blowing a nose. (seriously. I’m scarred for life, especially after having to “do table” and grabbing at the wrong spot).

 

Calming the Dinner Time Chaos: Part 1

You know the drill….

“Don’t talk with your mouth full!”

“I don’t need to see how big your mouth can get when it’s full of food!”

“Get your feet off the table”

“Sit Up”

“Stop complaining about your meal. When you can cook, you can choose to not cook with tomatoes, onions, pepper, bell pepper, asparagus, lettuce, pasta sauce, or anything else you don’t like.”

“Eat it. I promise you, that air bubbles aren’t spicy”. (seriously. I’ll never buy Phineas and Ferb Mac and Cheese again)

“How can you not like it? You haven’t even tried it!”

“Didn’t you like that yesterday?”

“Eat 2 more bites.”

“Eat 6 more bites.”

“One grain of quinoa is NOT a bite.”

“No, I will not hand feed you.”

“No, you can’t have cinnamon sugar on your mashed potatoes.”

“Honey, I want to hear what you have to say about your day, but you need to take a breath and eat.”

“Honey, seriously… stop talking.”

“Baby, really. Stop talking and EAT!”

“STOP TALKING AND EAT!”

 

I’m sure I could go on, but I think then I’d be nit-picking 😉

I’ve read/heard what they say about family dinners. You know, that children grow up to be awesome human beings if they would just eat dinner at the table with their folks at least 3 times a week. (Or something to that effect. I’m paraphrasing). But you know what they don’t talk about? How dinner is at the tail end of a tiring day. That dinner time is the opportunity for kids to fill their parents ears with constant barrages of “It’s not good enough”. It’s an awesome way to end a day, let me tell you.

If you don’t have these issues, trust me, I’m very excited for you. I wish I could say the same. I’ve always protected dinner time for the family. About 98% of the time, we eat around the table. And about 25% of that, we aren’t harping on each other constantly or eating in a pissed off silence (save for the “STOP TALKING AND EAT” moments).

Growing up, we ate dinner at the table. Our lives may have been chaos financially and/or mentally (though they were often linked), but I still remember having dinner at the table ,using our manners as well as we could (“Bibis, could you please pass the salt?”), drinking 2% milk, and marveling at how smart my parents sounded when they used $0.25 words or talked about intellectual topics (Don’t ask me which ones. I just remembered thinking my folks were smarties). I remember my sister and I taking turns at “doing table” (clearing dirties and loading the dishwasher), and my parents retiring to the living room for a cup of coffee (not even decaf! Crazy.). And cloth napkins. We always used cloth napkins.

I don’t remember the dinner hour being filled with complaints (though I’m sure there were some), nagging (though I’m sure there was some), or being told to stop talking. After all, isn’t this whole “Family Dinner” thing about reconnecting with those you love most?

So, I began to assess what I dreaded about dinner time.

1) The kids talking more than eating.

2) Not having any meaningful conversation.

3) The kids digging in before my rear has touched the seat.

4) The complaining about whatever is in the dish, no matter how finely I chopped, diced, or minced said ingredient. I refuse to puree things just to get my kids to eat them.

Inspired by the book Dwelling: Living Fully from the Space You Call Home by Mary Beth Lagerborg, I began thinking about ways to change those things. Here is what I came up with:

1) Dinner Time Show and Tell Box.

2) Blessing our food (We are TERRIBLE about doing this)

3) Eating “Family Style”, even if it means more dishes to wash.

4) Dinner Time Conversation Box

5) Child created centerpiece

6) Candles

7) Cloth napkins

Have I piqued your interest? Curious how I make all of those elements work to help calm the dinnertime chaos? Come back this afternoon to read Calming the Dinner Time Chaos: Part 2!