If you’re in the thick of dinner time battles then this is for you. You might also want to read my related helpful phrases posts:
Here’s our basic food routine.
Breakfast: grits, cereal or something random (if we have options they can choose).
Snack: their choice
Lunch: sandwich and fruit (both of which they can choose if we have options)
Snack: their choice
Dinner: whatever I happen to cook (usually two or three separate foods on the plate)
As you can see, I give my children choices where possible. I remember genuine preferences, and will give dill pickles to those who like them and not force feed those who don’t. I’m a caring mom.
While I’m a fan of letting children make appropriate decisions, and a fan of granting deserved freedoms, a mother of 4 (or 3 or 2 or 1…) can’t cater to every opinion and whim of each child. My preschooler and toddler will love something one day and snub it the next. There’s no rhyme or reason, and if I played short order cook at every meal I’d end up committed. It’s not practical.
And it’s not good for the kids.
Here are 5 dinner time phrases that can help stop battles (when practiced with consistency) that will help make dinner run smoothly and cut back on dinner time battles. If you have super picky eaters you might want to read Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating or The Picky Eating Solution.
1. “You get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit”
Does this mean your kids can’t have an opinion? No! Does it mean you are force feeding them liver, sauerkraut, and brussel sprouts to prove some point? Obviously not. It simply means that they aren’t allowed to look at their plate and pitch a fit. It’s disrespectful. It’s contagious. And it’s not an appropriate response even if they genuinely dislike the food served.
If your children consistently have contagious meltdowns or throw tantrums at the table, this is a great opportunity to teach them to appropriately release their emotions. It’s not about them pretending they are happy to please you (no way!). But just because they don’t like lasagna doesn’t mean they can cause a scene.
2. “You have two choices: take it or leave it”
I’m not being cute, this is literal. If my children don’t eat their dinner (aside from one bite) I will keep it out and they can have it as their before bed snack. There is no skipping all of dinner then being given yummy yogurt and strawberries before bed. But, before you send me hate mail, get this… more often than not they’ll jump up to the counter and happily finish their dinner plates.
They can eat what’s been lovingly prepared (by yours truly who does take into account what they like and don’t like) or they can leave it. But there’s no option B or dessert without having eaten. Not because I’m mean, but because life doesn’t always offer you a buffet. And my home is a place of reality.
3. “Taste before you waste”
I don’t think it’s a good idea to make them finish their plate. I had a friend who went to a school where the students were forced to finish their entire plate at lunch. She thinks it contributed to her being unable to recognize and stop eating when she’s full. To her, full = empty plate.
Sometimes my kids clean their plate and other times they do not. I’m not interested in serving sizes. I’m interested in them having a teachable and positive attitude that says, “I’ll try one bite and see if I like it!” If they try it and dislike it that’s okay. If there are 3 items on the plate and they try one bite of each and then stop. Fine. But often they will try it and find they like it. That’s our rule: at least one bite.
4. “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”
Part of the reason children don’t eat what’s on their plate is that they want to get down and go play. They think saying they don’t like it means more TV or iPad time.
I tell my kids if they don’t like what’s on their plate and have eaten their one bite, they still have to stay at the table until dinner is over. Dinner is not over because they rejected my macaroni. Dinner is over when everyone (within reason) is finished.
It’s polite. It’s kind. And it’s good for kids to learn to wait.
5. “Thank the cook before you book it”
My husband has a rule that the kids thank me for cooking and then ask him to be excused. I think it’s very polite for the children to thank the person who spent time, energy, and money preparing food for them. It’s a great habit to get into!
Even if my husband has to prompt the kids, hearing them smile at me and say, “Thank you for dinner, mommy” warms the heart.
Even if they gave my food the stink eye.
And acted like they were gagging when they swallowed their one bite.
And still opted to go to bed without a snack so they didn’t have to finish it.
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