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Dinnertime with the Kids

dinner-timeMy wife and I both work full time and have two kids (4 year girl and 6 year boy) who have never ending appetites. There are times where my wife has to stay at work late, which leaves me as the lucky one to get home, relieve my Nanny and then start the mission of getting dinner on the table for my family while keeping my sanity. Everyone’s circumstances are different, so this won’t apply to all, but here are some tips that I have practiced over the years that have definitely helped me with the process of getting dinner ready as well as making dinnertime with the family a more enjoyable experience.

Promote and Sell the Meal

The majority of the time the two things that come out of my kid’s mouths when I get home at the end of the day are “DADDY” and “what’s for dinner”. This is where I feel a little bit of salesmanship and excitement needs to be put forth. It is a classic trap to say, “I don’t know”, which usually opens up the flood gates of dinner requests from the kids. What I have tried to do over the years is to think ahead of what I am going to cook, then really talk it up. Especially, if I know it is something the kids aren’t crazy about. I will butter it up by saying things like, “you are going to love the way I cook this” or “this taste so good, wait til you try it”.

Keep them Calm

It is helpful to keep the kids calm as you are in the process of preparing the meal. Not only does this relax them and get them in the habit of waiting for their dinner, but it also will keep you sane. Some of the things you can do:

  • Put on their favorite movie or TV program
  • Set them up with an activity (game, coloring book, puzzle – something that will keep them occupied for at least 15 – 20 minutes)
  • Have them help you cook the meal where possible (keeps them focused and gets them excited about the meal)
  • Have them do their homework ( I especially like this one because my oldest child does his homework in the kitchen while I am cooking, so I get to spend quality time while keeping him calm while I cook)

Set the Table

Be prepared, have the plates down, utensils out, napkins available, glasses out and filled (with milk ideally), salt, pepper, other condiments out and on the table, etc. Point is, when that dinner is ready you want everything you need on that table. It will avoid distractions, keep the kids focused on eating their supper and will avoid you having to get up 10 times.

Plate the Food

I personally think the worst thing you can do is put all the food you are about to eat on the table, because then it becomes a selection process for the kids. As a parent, I want my kids to eat well, eat everything they are given and try new stuff. If possible, I will prepare their plates and give them everything I want them to eat on the plate (i.e. meat/fish, veggies, starch, etc), then I will call them to the dinner table. The first thing I notice is they love the presentation and are intrigued by the fact that they have a variety of stuff on their plate. This helps as well, when I am trying to push new food on them, as half the battle with trying new food is just getting it on their plate to begin with. Secondly, I don’t hear (or often I should say) that they don’t want something or they only want a specific food because they can only see what I have given them on their plate.

Dessert and Negotiation

Usually about halfway through the meal the negotiation kicks in. Dessert is on their mind and now it is just a matter of who wins the battle (parents or kids). Stand your ground and start the bidding high. For example, I’ll say if you take 4 more bites of the (meat or fish), 3 more bites of veggies and 2 more bites of starch (rice / potatoes), then you’ll get dessert. If all seems fine I’ll stay with it, but if the complaining starts to kick in then the bidding will come down, meaning the numbers get lowered. However, providing dessert without any additional chomps of food is not a deal in my household.

Dinnertime is not just about a meal, it’s about spending time with the family. So again, while everyone’s circumstances are different, hopefully these tips help make dinnertime a pleasant and enjoyable experience.

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