3 Simple Rules for Enjoyable Family Dinners

Are you sick and tired of working so hard to put a meal on the table only to hear whines and complaints from your children? Do you spend most of the meal bargaining with your children to get them to eat their veggies without plugging their nose? Are you ready to give up on family dinners completely? Before you do, read on to learn the three simple rules that completely transformed our family dinners.

Looking back, I vaguely remember the three years my husband and I were married before we had kids. We worked all day, came home, took our time making a gourmet dinner and sat down together to quietly eat and discuss our work days. We talked without interruption, asked each other relevant questions, and ate slowly so as to aid digestion and enjoy our nutritious meal together. I think it looked a little bit like this. . .

I love this imaginary couple and their fancy food and kitchen, and it makes me smile because it is so far from the reality of our tiny galley kitchen where, at age 22, we felt so grown up making our Hamburger Helper and Pillsbury Biscuits.

Then we had kids, and meal times became anything but peaceful. First there was breastfeeding while trying to eat. Then there was the rush to get something into the mouth of a screaming toddler who hadn’t eaten in, well, an hour at least. Next came the addition of another child, so more breastfeeding and trying to get a meal put together that had more than one food group, and that’s about when the whining started. “But I don’t like this! This is yucky! I want something else! Why do we have to eat this?” became our nightly routine.

“What? You made pizza, again? I don’t like pizza! That was my favorite last week, but now I don’t like it and will have nothing but this entire gallon of milk!”

After the addition of our third child, I’d had just about enough. I was tempted to give up even trying to sit down to a family dinner, but I’d read the articles like the one found here and having grown up eating dinners as a family, I knew first hand how valuable that time could be. With three kids under the age of five, though, it had become challenging and downright exhausting. Something had to change or I was going to lose it.

That’s when in a moment of what I can only assume was divine wisdom sent down from above, I came up with 3 rules for mealtime that changed the course of our family dinners forever. These three rules are simple, easy to remember, and make sitting down to dinner together as a family enjoyable. I implemented these three rules when our kids were all under age 5 and they are still in effect ten years later.

I’d love to tell you that these 3 rules were presented to our children and they followed them without incentive or reward. Alas, that would not be the case. In our home, we decided that dessert would be the reward. It could be ice cream, a popsicle, a cookie, or some other treat. Ideally it would be the only treat the kids got that day, so I didn’t feel very guilty offering it to them, but nowadays, they seem to find sugar everywhere. (But that’s another story.)

Sugar on top of sugar on top of sugar. . . desserts were the incentive, but at some point, they began following the rules without it, too.

If our kids didn’t satisfy all three rules during the meal, they sat and watched the rest of us eat dessert, and I tell you what – it didn’t take more than a couple times of each one of them watching the rest of us enjoy our treat for them to make better choices the next time around. You can choose the reward you feel comfortable with and that will work with your kids, and I promise, with these 3 rules, you will enjoy family dinners again!

So prepare a meal, set the table, and get ready to regain your sanity at mealtimes again! Here are the 3 Simple Rules for Enjoyable Family Dinners:

3 Simple Rules for Enjoyable Family Dinners

1. Appreciate Your Meal. For many of you, praying before meals is routine. This rule, takes that prayer of thanks one step further and has your children thank the chef as well. This makes them aware that someone prepared the meal for them and that person deserves appreciation, too. This one may feel a little self serving if you are the family chef, but I promise you that when your children eat at their friends’ houses and thank that child’s parent for the meal, they will be invited back time and time again. It applies in so many other areas, as well, and gives your children the opportunity to practice saying thank you each night to someone who lovingly provided a service to them.

2. Eat Without Complaining. No one is going to like every single meal that they are served. However, we can all eat our meals without complaining about them. (Even when it’s baked hash from a can – which I may have complained about as a kid – sorry, Mom!) If the kids don’t like what is being served, they can politely let me know that they don’t care for it and eat as many bites as they can. This rule has the added bonus of having made our kids really good eaters. They are now willing to try anything and eat so much more variety than I did as a kid.

3. Use Good Manners. I am not going to lie, this is the hardest in our family and the one that continues to be a work in progress. How you define good manners is really up to you. When the kids were younger, good manners included staying seated, not throwing food, and no loud unusual noises. Then we graduated on to chewing with mouths closed, putting napkins in laps and using them when necessary, keeping elbows off the table, and holding forks and knives properly. Pretty basic stuff, I know, but, well, like I said, it’s a work in progress. Now that our kids are older, we also talk about how manners are important when you go on a date and eat with friends and eventually have business dinners. (I know from experience that it’s easy to be lenient on this rule, but don’t be!)

These three simple rules changed family dinners in our home, and I know they will in yours as well. Before these rules I was ready to stop trying all together, and now I love sitting down for dinner each night and treasure that time together as a family. Family dinners can be enjoyable! Give your kids the rules and let me know how it goes in the comments below!


1 thought on “3 Simple Rules for Enjoyable Family Dinners

  1. Thanks, Alexandra. I have witness the results of these three rules. A work in progress, as you say, but I can promise you that I have felt those warm words of gratitude after I prepared a meal for these grandkids. It made it so worth it.

    Too bad about the canned hash. I haven’t made that meal in decades, but I would love it today! Thanks to my mom, who cooked for a family of eight.

    Love, Mom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *