24 September 2010

Mealtime ordeals averted, sort of

In our house, after many years of setting mealtime rules and adjusting and readjusting them, I think we've settled on something that works.

Our philosophy comes from experience and books.  What we do is this:

I prepare dinner.  I make sure there is at least one item on the table that each person will eat, whether it is rice or pasta or even just bread and butter, I know that the kids will not go hungry. 

If one of the boys does not want to eat the meal I have provided, he can pour himself a bowl of cereal (nothing sweetened) and have as much of that for dinner as he wants, but no dessert.  We always have a dessert option and if they at least try each item on the table, they get dessert.

There is no clean plate club here.  We want to encourage the boys to try new things and old things again and again, reminding them that their tastes will change as they grow.  But, we don't want to make meal time a battleground.

The rules are set, there is no debate.  If they argue, they get one chance to stop and after that, they suffer some kind of consequence.  The main thing we stress at this point is respect.  We remind them that when they are rude and complain about dinner, it hurts my feelings since I worked hard (sometimes not so hard) to prepare the meal.

We also don't want sweets to seem like a forbidden item.  So, they can have dessert each night, assuming all the rules have been followed.

Of course the rules are tested from time to time.  One of the boys argues over dinner any night the offering is not one of his favorites but he usually backs down when I remind him of the rules.

We had a big battle a few nights ago.  One of the boys began whining when he learned we were having Chinese dumplings, rice and stir fried veggies.  I want to remind you that he could have had a small taste of the veggies and dumplings, filled up on rice and still had dessert, but he whined and whined.  I reminded him he could have cereal, and he asked for a sweetened cereal.  I reminded him that that is not an option.  He then announced he was just going to go to bed hungry.

This all was probably caused by the fact that he was already in a bad mood due to a large amount of math homework, but reasoning with him got me nowhere.  I put an end to the discussion quickly and continued with the meal preparations and then the meal.  About mid way through dinner, he caved in and ate a bowl of cereal, then another and another.  Then he showered and had time to play before bed.

I find that if we just don't make a big deal about the issue and we don't fall into the trap of the debate, things eventually go our way- the right way!

Tonight's dinner is a fish with spicy sauce over rice, salad and Challah bread.  One of the boys will eat the fish, salad and rice without the spicy sauce, one of the boys will eat the spicy sauce over the rice, with no fish or salad, one of the boys will eat it all and one of the boys will just eat rice and salad.  Everyone will enjoy the bread and, barring any unforeseen hiccups when the boys are reminded about the small taste of everything, we will have a lovely family dinner.

We also set the tone of the meal by asking each child, first, the best part of their day, and then the worst.  This keeps communication open and gives us a peek at their day.  I highly recommend it.

Bon appetite!

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