Family Eating Rules!
How We Overcame Chaos and Pickiness at Our Family Table – we incorporated the following 5 Family Eating Rules!
Before we had eating rules in our house mealtime was a joke. My husband and I could barely hold a conversation because we were constantly hounding the kids to eat. The little gremlins obviously saw mealtime as the perfect opportunity to be entertained by mom and dad’s dramatic frustration. I remember having a kidless friend over for dinner one night and I will never forget the look on his face when I made eye contact with him from across the table. His nonverbal communication so clearly validated what I already knew—we were out of control and the scene was ridiculous. I was embarrassed and motivated to make some major changes. Shortly after that night my husband and I implemented these eating rules that CHANGED OUR MEALTIME.
Eating Rules #1
- Mealtime is 30 minutes. We tell the kids, “Dinner time is over at 6:30. Next meal is breakfast,” for example. We may give a count down of ten minutes left, or five minutes remaining. But, when 6:30 comes around dinner is over—whether or not plates are clean. If one of the kids didn’t finish his meal he may whine about being hungry before bed. We simply say, “Oh, I’m sorry you are hungry. In the morning I will have a yummy breakfast that will help fill your belly.” We try not to rub it in his face that he chose not to eat nor remind him why he is hungry. Kids are smart—they know why. We simply validate feelings and let him know when he can expect the next meal. It only took the kids a couple of poor eating days to realize that going to bed hungry was not a fun experience. For this rule to be effective it is essential not to give in and give them a snack between dinner and bedtime. If we do they quickly learn that they can skip a meal, later throw a fit, and get fed even yummier foods later.
Eating Rules #2
- Kids who finish their plates can have berries or a snack after meals. Kids are not forced to eat all of their food at mealtime, but we figure if they weren’t hungry enough to eat all of the food on their plate then they certainly would not be hungry enough to eat a bowl of fruit or berries after dinner. That is often a very effective motivator for them to finish their dinner. We offer healthy options that they still see as a treat (i.e. berries) and avoid sugary desserts. Kids who don’t finish breakfast or lunch will surely be hungry for the next meal, but they are not eligible for a morning or afternoon snack.
Eating Rules #3
- Kids sit at the table until mealtime is over. We also require our kids to stay at the table until mealtime is done. They are not allowed to get up and play or goof around. If kids goof around or get up from the table to play they are excused from the table until the next meal is served. They spend the rest of dinner in their bedrooms so they don’t disturb the rest of the family’s eating.
Eating Rules #4
- No screaming, kicking, hitting, or other annoying behaviors. The kids get one warning about their behavior that is not conducive to an enjoyable meal environment. The warning might sound like, “kids who touch their brothers at the dinner table again will be done with dinner tonight.” If that behavior happens again the child is excused from the meal and spends the rest of mealtime in his bedroom. He is not eligible for a snack or after meal fruit bowl since the meal wasn’t finished.
Eating Rules #5
- Seconds—after all firsts. Kids can have seconds of anything on their plates after they have eaten everything on the plate. My youngest son is such a meat eater and veggie-resister that he could eat enough meat to feed the entire family if we’d let him. He doesn’t get seconds on meat until he has eaten all the veggies on his plates. For breakfast, the kids’ plate of food, or “main course,” is only offered once they empty their cups of green smoothie (a smoothie packed with leafy green vegetables). My youngest son chose not to eat his green smoothie only once and he quickly realized that breakfast doesn’t come until the green vegetables are eaten. My kids always eat their green smoothies now in anticipation of the rest of their breakfast.
The next time my kidless friend joined us for dinner he was aghast at the transformation. The kids actually sat and ate while we enjoyed an adult conversation and the adults appeared to be in control of mealtime.
Wishing you a great summer integrating these 5 Family Eating Rules!
Sarah Kolman RN, MA, CHPN Family Contributor and Nutrition Expert at Clean Eating Programs
Visit Sarah at www.this-one-life.com