You don’t even need to be a parent to know that meals with children can be trying. Kids are naturally quite choosy when it comes to what they eat. Add to that: the fact that we have 7 different little personalities around the table with different likes and dislikes, the fact that David and I also have our likes and dislikes, the fact that they came together from two different households with very different rules, and the fact that we have a budget to stay within or this whole food thing could drive us to poverty! All of this causes dinner time to become a finely tuned procedure.
Our first dinner all together was held around a much too small table in a much too small house, but with smiles abounding with the hope of what could lie before us all: a complete family. David and I stood while the kids all squeezed in around the table. I think we had Mexican Dip-which is still a staple around here. Since that first dinner, we have had some fails and some successes and we are still executing new experiments in attempts to make the whole process even easier (fingers crossed and prayers said!) While we aren’t perfect and we are still experimenting with new methods, I have compiled a list of the things that have proven effective for us in our meshing of 9 very different people around one big table.
- “Eat it or go to bed.” This started out as the pretty common: eat it or go hungry, but it doesn’t take long in a group this size for the evil masterminds to show themselves. Like the one who says, “Ok, I choose to not eat.” after he/she has eaten all the parts they like (which is enough to keep a kid going for hours). Then there is the one that has learned they don’t really need a third meal a day to survive and playing is more fun anyway so they just peace out at the beginning and could care less. Some would vote to just let them do this and they will eat when they need to, but the lack of respect, the inhibited family time, and personality traits forming in these instances, took that off the table for us. (See what I did there?) So now, their options cause them to think their choice out a little more. They can just eat it, or they can go right to bed for the night. **An amendment was made to this one since its initial in-statement: teenagers do not get the option to go to bed as they are now learning how wonderful sleep actually is and sometimes welcome it. Instead, they can do homework or a chore until bedtime. We try to emphasize that this is not a punishment as much as it is a choice, but either way, dinners get eaten.
- “Everybody gets one.” We aren’t all bad! We understand that sometimes, people legitimately cannot eat something without feeling sick. It’s not a lack of preference, but a true dislike. So, everyone in the family gets one thing they do not have to eat if it shows up in dinner. Everyone knows everyone else’s “one”. I still do not cook something special for that person, but there is usually a leftover in the fridge or something in the pantry that can take its place. Their one is locked in and cannot be changed without a formal request NOT at dinner time. Just for fun, here is everyone’s current “one”: Grace-cheddar noodle casserole, Hope-white potatoes, Madalyn-stuffing, Meredith-alfredo, Josiah-baked beans, Charlotte-She eats everything so she has yet to discover her one, Faith-peppers.
- “Parents finish first.” David started this one back when we were dating. He would watch me, partly in my efforts to impress him, get up and down at dinner grabbing things and helping people. He declared one night at one of our weekend dinners (around that small table) that no one could ask me for anything until my first plate of food was gone. Once we were married, I changed it to both parents because I didn’t like only ever hearing “give mom her break.” I wanted Dad to have his too. It is kind of comical now at dinner to see kids bouncing in their seats and staring at our plates waiting to be able to ask for more!
- “Keeper or not a keeper.” If a new meal is tried, the kids are not allowed to complain during the meal. They are learning not to be rude for future life experiences. All the same rules still apply and they eat their dinner. BUT after dinner, we will go around the table and make a vote: Keeper or Not a keeper. It isn’t worth it to me to keep anything on the menu that more than two people dislike. Dinners are not meant to be a fight. Dinners are meant to be enjoyed together. If many of us aren’t enjoying the food, then I am not getting that family time that is so important. The kids greatly enjoy getting to be part of the meal picking process. Adds a bit of a fun element to new meals instead of dread and hesitance.
- “I don’t like this.” This one was kind of mentioned a few times above, but kids are not allowed to say the words, “I don’t like” This one was actually born because we had one kid that would come to the table every single night, and before even looking at the meal, say “I don’t like this.” We want the kids to learn that they need to try things and that it is okay to like more than a select few favorites, and statements like that are rude. It has now been banned.
- Veggies are discussed. Everyone is a fan of this one but me. I will repeat again that I do not want dinner time to be battle time. I think some of the biggest battles are over vegetables. Four of our kids were big veggie eaters because I gave them a ton of them from the beginning. Three of our kids weren’t as big on them because David is not a big fan of them-that is pretty normal though. From the beginning, we found 3 vegetables that everyone would eat: broccoli, green beans and corn (which barely counts). Those are the three I rotate through and everyone has to eat their vegetables at dinner. We had a family discussion the other night on what vegetables we could add in and we didn’t get very far. Mommy is tired of the same three, but everyone else is very content with them. I decided I am just going to start making two vegetables some nights. Then whoever wants to join me can and whoever doesn’t can have an old faithful!
- We just started a new experiment so I can’t call this a method we have found to be effective, but I still want to share it. Table manners are very important to us. We believe it is important to teach kids to present themselves well. Their futures will thank us. We have just established the “Kid Table”. Now, kids will be kids, but kids that really have a problem at the dinner table will spend the next dinner at the kid’s table. Doing well at the kid’s table, gets them back to the family table. Some unacceptable behaviors are: forced loud belches, making a mess from being silly, playing to the point of needing to be redirected many times. Disclaimer: we have nights where everything is finger foods and elbow are allowed on the table and we just have fun, but we also have these nights where the kids are being taught how to behave at a table. We even have china nights every now and then where we get out the nice china and eat off of it and to do all the etiquette things (the kids love correcting each other on those nights).
I am not declaring that there is any perfect way to conduct family dinner time, but these are some of the things that work for us. Every family is different and has to find what works for them. I would love to hear some of what works for you!
If you are wondering, budgeting to feed this many people I will cover in another post another time. Also a finely tuned procedure! Also be on the lookout for some upcoming recipe posts!
Happy dining, families ❤