Our Five Simple Rules for Family Mealtime

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In every parent’s life, you have to make commitments; decisions that you will hold to no matter what – schools, discipline,  TV time,  family time, and bedtime just to name a few.  In our home, a huge commitment for us was family meal time, even if only one designated meal a day. We try for as many as we can, but it is always dinner. When you think about it, all major holidays are celebrated with a family meal. It is a chance to sit face to face and talk with friends and family, catch up, and enjoy each other’s company.  We endeavor to make every dinner a holiday.
RULE #1:
Dinner is at 6:00.
This seems simple enough, but it is actually not the world’s easiest commitment when you have children. Eating at the same time every day is part of our decision to have a routine as much as we can. For as long as the kids have been able to sit at the table, we have had dinner at six. This way, you can plan when to start cooking by knowing when you need to be done.  If we are making steaks then we need them pulled from the fridge at quarter to four so that they can be done for six.  This also allows us to plan activities leading up to dinner.
RULE #2:
Everybody helps
Since the day I became a parent, I have been waiting for my children to be old enough to wash the dishes.  Alas, they are still bad at it…  While we wait for that glorious day, we can be content with letting the kids set the table.  Whoever is cooking hands each child a setting assignment. One gets silverware, one gets plates, one gets cups, and one gets to wipe the table before everything else is put down.  We have switched to paper plates because we are a family of seven with no automatic dishwasher.  This makes trusting kids with plates a little easier, but even when we are using real bowls and plates, they are usually really good with them.  We also try to alternate tasks so each kid gets to do each duty.
Clean up is on the parents in our house.  The kids are usually messy and heading up for a bath. One adult takes the kids and one takes the table. (Sorry, single parents, you guys are truly amazing, and I applaud you for however it is you do it!)
RULE #3
No thank you portion.
Dinner in our house consists of serving food, a symphony of voices, noise, and love. But no matter how beautiful it may be, it’s still incredibly hard to make food everyone likes.  Our commitment with this issue is the “no thank you portion”. Simply put, if you feel like saying no thank you to what we put on your plate then you must take a small portion of what is offered. This was initiated mainly for visiting other people. We are huge on manners and it’s very rude to refuse food somebody else prepared for you.
We love the concept, but the execution is a whole different matter.  We have to chose our battles carefully.  Losing your mind over a small portion of a meal is not always worth it.  But we still try to get them to taste everything so they actually know they don’t like it instead of assuming they don’t.
Yes, Parents this means you, too. There are plenty of foods we don’t like. But your children learn more from example than what you tell them.  So prepare for a few Brussels sprouts along the way.
RULE #4
“How was your day? “
Our commitment to communication happened way before we had kids.  It became dedication when we did.  One of my favorite questions we ask is, “what was your favorite part of today?” This is very  simple to ask, but it is absolutely magical to hear the answers.  We are blessed with very articulate children, and they have amazing memories.  The stuff they remember is usually adorable.  We also work on our new words. They know alfresco, constellation, photosynthesis, laceration,  abrasion, contusion ,and aspirate, along with their definitions. Needless to say, it takes a lot of repetition.
Now, for parents, it’s a very good for you to answer these questions as well.  As always, the kids learn from what you do. Many times, if the kids are not participating, we will start with the adults to get the conversation going.
RULE #5
No Devices or attachments
No phones, no toys, no blankets, no books. It’s Family time. The whole point of family dinner is family. Our lives are filled with distractions with a million ways to enjoy them. For all I know, you’re reading this post on your watch while you watch YouTube on your phone while you watch the news on TV.  Well, if you’re processing all that information now, then you should be able to spare a few minutes to talk to your kids, husband, wife, brother, sister, mother, or whoever else is at your table.
Yes, parents this is mainly aimed at you. Again, lead by example.  If you don’t want your kids texting at the table during Christmas dinner with the in-laws, then don’t teach them it’s okay at the other 364 meals of the year.  Now, I’m not saying don’t have your phone on you.  Emergencies happen, and sometimes you really need to take that call. But you don’t have to answer a text or check social media. Let it go. It’s family time.
I hope this helps make at least one meal a day become a time that your entire family can share with their entire family some day. Our greatest achievements as parents are making wonderful parents out of our children.  Let’s start with dinner.
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