Dinner issues

silverswordAugust 23, 2011

WHAT do you do about dinner? What is dinner like in your house? What do you want it to look like? What does it REALLY look like?

I am so tired of dinner issues. We're so lucky to have good food, a nice table, healthy, intelligent people with whom to eat dinner.

And yet... there's always something. Manners... etc.

How do you create a nice dinner atmosphere? I'm going NUTS over here!!!!

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Silver, my parents were really strict about dinner/manners/eating what was served etc. Believe me dinner was never pleasant at house. Family members were much less strict in the next generation and yet all the nieces/nephews did learn and have good manners as adults. They also had a pleasant dinner time growing up. I would really try to balance one of the few times a family is all together with "perfect dinner time" vs "a pleasant time to remember".

    Bookmark   August 23, 2011 at 2:17PM
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I was strict about every one being there for dinner with hands washed. No TV at dinner time, no arguing, taste everything new and do not take out more food than you can eat. I never made them clean their plate, I think that leads to over riding the natural feeling of full. I was not strict with manners, but they didn't seem to show a need for it.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2011 at 4:19PM
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When my kids were in elementary school, we generally all sat down to dinner together. My general rules were that I gave a warning - dinner ready in a few minutes. After that, I expected everyone to come within a minute or two of being called. Everyone not doing homework or something else useful was expected to set the table, etc.

Our standards as far as manners were pretty relaxed. Nothing gross allowed like chewing with your mouth open all the time, but we didn't sweat the small stuff like napkins on the kids' laps.

Family discussions are hugely important to me, so most of my rules were about that. I had pretty firm rules that my husband and I kept our topics to things that were at least somewhat interesting to the kids. We didn't use dinnertime to discipline the kids or complain about the kids. I tried to keep any one person from monopolizing the conversation with a boring topic no one else cared about. My daughter used to get left out a lot, so we passed around the "magic knife". The person holding the "magic knife" got to talk without being interrupted. Mom, of course, could overrule the "magic knife".

We occasionally had dinners that were about teaching manners. I tried to make that fun for the kids. The food was something they liked, they decorated the table and used candles. That's where I taught them about napkins on the lap, salad and dinner forks, etc.

We also had a "blessing cup". It was sparkly with gold stars. Anyone caught being a blessing to others got to drink from the "blessing cup" that night.

My kids had to try different foods usually, but just one bite. If they didn't like it, they didn't have to eat it. We didn't have a lot of arguments about who ate what, because for me the discussion and time together every night was a lot more important than the food.

Dinnertime now (teens and young adults) when we all sit down together is an elaborate affair. Everyone helps get dinner together usually. Often there are extra people - grandma, friends, boyfriend, etc. We usually sit around talking a long time after dinner is over. As usual, everyone is expected to contribute. Topics should be of general interest. It's great now that they're older - the topics are sometimes fascinating and the discussion is often lively.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2011 at 4:47PM
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When my kids were in elementary school and middle school my number one priority was to come together at dinner as a family and share a pleasant meal. So I had a lot more rules about dinner conversation than manners or nutrition. I have many friends with different priorities and their families turned out just fine, so I'm not saying my way is the only way or my priorities the best priorities.

It was very important to me that dinner be pleasant, so here are the things I did. First, I gave a warning depending on what the kids were doing that dinner would be in X number of minutes. Depending on what they were doing, sometimes a couple of warnings. So they were rarely yanked out of the middle of an intense battle in the tree fort or building a Barbie house. They had some warning to wind things down. At the final call for dinner, everyone was expected to come pretty quickly.

Next, I was not very picky at all about food eaten or manners. Nothing gross was allowed like egregious chewing food with the mouth wide open, but I didn't care if they put their napkins in their laps or not. I put healthy choices in front of them, they could eat or not as they chose. When younger they had to try one bite of everything, but as they got older I didn't care.

My most important rules were about conversation. Everyone had to participate. My husband and I didn't discipline the children or complain about their behavior, etc. I tried to keep my husband and my conversation confined to things that would be somewhat interesting to the children. So work conversation between the adults was brought down to a kid level and kept fairly short, or at least I tried.

I tried to keep my eyes open during the day for interesting dinner topics, jokes, etc. My kids picked up that habit as the years passed by, and they do the same thing now.

My daughter often got overlooked and no one but me was interested in her school day. And she was often very quiet and hard to draw out. So for awhile we had the "magic knife". Whoever had the "magic knife" got to talk, and only mom could overrule. I used the "magic knife" to teach some conversational manners - don't monopolize the time, pick topics of general interest, tell about your day but don't spend forever and not give sister a chance to talk, etc. But I put those things in positive terms, not negative ones. For example, rather than "shut up and let your sister talk" I'd say, "We loved hearing about your day and now I know you want to hear about sister's day".

We also had the "blessing cup", which was sparkly and had gold stars. Anyone caught being a blessing got to drink from the "blessing cup". They had to either be caught, or someone else had to tell me. The blessing couldn't be self-reported, in other words.

My kids needed to learn very good manners because they sometimes met business contacts at conventions, etc. So I sometimes had dinners just to teach manners. I told the children in advance what I was doing and why. I tried to make it fun - I cooked foods they really liked, they decorated the table and used candles. I tried to keep things light and funny. We brought out the china, silver with all the place settings, crystal, bread plates, etc. And me being me, I spent as much time teaching them proper conversational manners at business and charity dinners as I did which fork to use. But I'm not sure how to describe it - it wasn't presented in a bad way but in a positive way, like learning to drive a car. But those types of dinners didn't happen that often.

I put a lot of thought and effort into making dinner pleasant. It didn't always come easily, and sometimes it felt like I was the only one who cared. But my efforts paid off. My kids are young adults now and they are wonderful dinner companions, if I do say so myself. They can converse with a variety of guests if they need to, on a variety of topics.

When we all sit down to dinner now we almost always linger a long time after the meal is over, talking. It's worth every minute I spent listening to the elaborate plot of an Animorphs book or the details of an epic battle for control of the tree fort. Or debating what I'd most like to be - a cobra or a black mamba and why. In fact, we had a fascinating discussion about Russian polar bears just a couple of weeks ago.

Enjoy those mealtimes together, they go by way too fast.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2011 at 7:37PM
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So sorry about the double post. I had something typed out, lost it, so retyped the gist of my post again. Low and behold, there was the lost post as well!

Hope you find something that works for your family. Family dinner is a subject dear to my heart!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2011 at 7:40PM
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Dinners are relaxed in our house (mostly.)

When I was growing up my dad was like a tyrant and dinners were often unpleasant experiences with him pounding the table and yelling about this or that. HHe had really strict ideas about table manners. It was super formal---we couldn't leave the table unless we said "May I please be excused?" and then my dad thought it was hilarious to say "No" multiple times. Just for fun. He'd laugh and say "No, you didn't ask correctly." Then he'd sit there and watch me and my brother squirm and timidly ask again and....

Just not fun. HE thought it was the funniest joke, me not so much.

BUT BUT BUT---as unpleasant as those memories are, I do have many good ones of family conversations around the table. THAT is an important tradition to me to carry over to my children. The conversation.

I let DH handle SS's food issues b/c he's really picky---doesn't like pretty much any kind of meat (chicken, beef, fish, etc) and vegetables are a total struggle. He is a starch kid---potatoes or pasta. I try to serve meals that include one of each: meat/protein, veggie and some kind of side, like a baked potato or rice, etc.

We don't expect the kids to "clean their plates" but we do require that they at least try a bite of everything new. DD is a good eater when it comes to the healthy stuff so we don't have to "monitor" her. With SS, DH will usually divide his veggies in half and tell him to eat half, or to eat "____ many bites" of his broccoli or whatever.

DH works late often so we don't always all sit down. I will sit @ the table with the kids but I sometimes wait for DH and eat w/him. Sometimes not.

On Mondays and Tuesdays, it's frequently just me and DD b/c DH picks those nights to stay late since SS isn't with us.

I'd say about 2-3 nights a week on average (at home) we ALL sit down together. I wish it were more but given DH's schedule, it's not always possible.

On Sundays, we often either eat out or we go to my dad's house or grandparents' house.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2011 at 8:08AM
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We have some "food" issues with SS at times - that is always a work in progress. Other than that (if it's happening), dinner is pretty pleasant. We all sit down at the table together; TV is definitely off and music (classical, opera or big band usually, but sometimes other) is on. Phones, texts or emails are not to be answered or even checked, with very rare exceptions for work (only if there is a known crisis at work).

Manners are actually fairly formal but SS likes to have good manners so that's been no trouble; if SS is in the mood he will pull out my chair for me and/or stand when I get up or come back to the table. Yes he does. I love it. :-)

One thing I will not do is make SS ask permission to be excused. (Love, I think we have the same father.) But we all excuse ourselves if we are leaving the table at all.

We try to have pleasant conversation, but with two adults and one child it sometimes ends up that one person has more to say about their day than the others, but since that person changes between the three of us I think that that's fine.

Oh, and we take turns saying grace before dinner.

Dinner is actually pretty close to what I'd like (although I'd prefer if people actually didn't wait until I announced dinner was ready before they felt the need to go wash their hands, etc. considering that I've already given them notice), and the occasional food issue. Other than that it's pretty good.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2011 at 10:01AM
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What if... there's something, like chewing with mouth open... that KEEPS happening. I don't mean WIDE open chewing, but open for sure.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2011 at 12:32PM
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You can do lots of things. Ask the offender to leave the table and eat separately, if that would work. Wouldn't have worked for my kids. You can make a joke out of it, everyone in the family can exaggeratedly chew with mouths open if that would work. That might have worked for my kids. You could put up funny signs around the dinner table "Gross Chewers Not Allowed" or something (can't think of anything funny).

Having them do something silly in a light-hearted way often worked for my kids. Just this summer my 19-year-old daughter and I agreed on a consequence if she forgot a certain thing I asked her to do - she would have had to sing "I'm A Little Teapot" complete with motions for me.

I've had my kids sing a song for me, make up a poem, write an essay, etc. about the things they weren't doing correctly. Writing an essay or story usually stopped the offense pretty quickly.

I prefer something funny at first, but we move on to bigger, more unpleasant consequences if we have to. Best not to get angry, though, just matter of fact.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2011 at 4:34PM
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Some of the suggestions here are terrific! Love the "Magic knife" idea.

While growing up my father was uber strict at the table also...I remember times of one of us reaching for an item instead of asking to"Please pass" he'd jump up, have his fork out so quick over their hand as if to stab you! sheesh.
I swore my own table was not going to ever feel the stress like that.

With my own kids I had a few "rules" that "she who was to be obeyed" (me, lol) enforced.
1. No gritching about what was being served. I knew exactly what was not a favorite of each child and tried not to have it on the menu often. Yet, you did have to eat a small teaspoon of each dish. If you gritched I'd threaten to bring out the BIG spoon and you'd get a serving of that. It became the joke to gritch about the things they loved in order to get the "big spoon".
2. One night a week we had a game called "Kings and Queens" where all of the fine dishes were brought out and our manners were to be top notch. As if we were dining with the king and queen. Funny, but the kids ended up policing one another on any infractions.

Having kids jumping up on the chair, reaching over the top of the whole table constantly drives me nuts! I used to see my my sister's kids do that. And then a few times my own grand kids. Argh.

Chewing with the mouth open isn't pleasant, but I tried to quietly squeeze the knee of the offender and purse my lips as a reminder. Unless the offender was speaking with food spewing onto the table...that's when you get called out in front of everyone at the table.

Sometimes when I was stressed, I noticed I became more sensitive to bad table manners and had to check MYSELF in relation to setting the tone of our meals.

My DH used to and sometimes still does cringe at what he deems unsavory dinner conversation...I admit, we have taken things too far, yet never over the top gross. I think it's interesting what one person deems unsavory another has no qualms about the subject though.

I wish you the most peaceful table times...fun times, enlightening times. And remember, YOU are creating the memories for your children. What will they remember if someone asks about their childhood meal time?

    Bookmark   August 24, 2011 at 5:00PM
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I'm in the same camp as pretty much everyone else. I'm a manners person, but we usually enforce them with jokes or goofy reminders.

My biggest rule is closed mouths while chewing. I hate mouth noises of pretty much any type, so this literally makes my skin crawl.
The rest - sitting on your butt in your chair, napkins in laps, try everything, don't complain about what you are served, no TV (except on big football game nights!) or phones and thank the cook when you clear your plate.

With two little boys dinners can get pretty crazy in a fun way, and I love that. There is a lot of joking and laughing, and I celebrate that they can have fun AND have good manners. . . . most of the time!

    Bookmark   August 24, 2011 at 5:21PM
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We used to all sit at the table together. DH doesn't have the best table manners but I can glance at him & he knows that I just caught him chewing with his mouth open so he mindfully tries not to. SD is a different story. She eats JUST like her dad... letting food fall out of the mouth back on the plate. It's just GROSS. (of course I can see she eats like him) but she also does other things. When eating a burger, she tears the bread off the outside all the way around with her hands, then tears the food off with her fingers, holds it high above her face & brings it down to put it in her mouth... like a big production. She also loads her spoon/fork & shovels as much into her mouth without swallowing the previous bite. If I tell her anything, she rolls her eyes & might stop for a minute but then "forgets" & goes back to eating like that. I don't blame her as much as the parents for never teaching her any manners... they don't have good manners so how are they going to teach her? So, now I eat dinner away from the table.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2011 at 6:26PM
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