In general, our family is pretty laid back about meals. That being said, we do still have some basic but essential household kitchen rules that we work to maintain on a regular basis.
We aren’t crazy-strict when it comes to eating – for example no one will ever be forced to clear their plate at our table, nor do we make people eat things they really despise. My youngest doesn’t handle spicy foods very well, so we modify by making, for instance, mild chili and then adding hot sauce at the table.
However, these are some of the household kitchen rules that work well for our family.
Healthy choices more often than not
On Friday nights we will almost always have pizza. It’s not take-out, it’s frozen and done in the oven so it’s not super greasy but it’s still not health food. Also, if it’s a ridiculously busy night (say, parent-teacher interview night or something similar where we get home late) we might rely on chicken strips with a salad for a quick meal. However, the rest of the time we eat homemade food made with lean meats, vegetables, grains, and often a salad on the side.
A plate of homemade spaghetti, pork tenderloin, or a vegetarian lentil dish is way better than a bunch of MSG-laden boxed frozen foods any day. It’s important to us to be healthy more often than not. In any case, it tastes better too!
We also try to keep our meals with a high ratio of whole foods. Once upon a time, George and I used to buy these rice kits with flavour packets or pasta envelopes that you cooked in water or milk. There is nothing good about those things (well, except a couple of the pasta packs are pretty yummy, but there’s no nutritional value). I’d rather make regular rice in our rice cooker than use those anymore. Sure, sometimes a box of mac ‘n’ cheese is comforting but we try to make that the exception and not the rule.
Give it a try!
Like I said, we don’t believe in sticking a plate of dreaded food in front of our kids and saying, “eat it, and don’t get up until it’s gone.” There are definitely foods that I do not like and will not eat, so I’m not about to force someone else to eat things that they hate. (For instance, you will never convince me that I should eat organ meats. I have tried most of them, I can’t do it.)
On the other hand, I didn’t want to have to deal with insanely picky eaters so I’ve always simply requested that they at least try it before proclaiming they can’t stand it – how can you know you don’t like something if you don’t give it a shot? Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but at least I know it’s not being shoved aside because of the color or shape or texture.
Try it again!
If someone tries a food and doesn’t like it, no problem! You don’t have to eat peas if you love every other vegetable. Tastes do change though – I used to hate mashed potatoes as a child. What was I thinking?! Mashed potatoes are delicious! Over time I found I love them and I would never have known if I had simply written them off forever.
I won’t force, but from time to time I will casually ask if someone wants to try a small bite just to see if their taste buds have a different opinion. Same as the first try, sometimes it works and it becomes a favorite just like my mashed potatoes. Other times it still isn’t a hit.
Caution: Sometimes this will backfire in ways you don’t anticipate. Both my kids used to think scallops were disgusting. One day they decided to try one again and now they both love them. This is disastrous since it means I now have to share my beloved scallops. This rule doesn’t always work out in my favor.
Family dinners at the table
Breakfast and lunch are both too scattered to be kept to a schedule where we all eat together. During the week, George is usually gone before I even get up, and Hayley isn’t hungry right away so she eats something at school. Breanna eats cereal at the table while I eat my toast as I get dressed and catch the news.
Even on weekends, we all eat when we feel like eating instead of as a family around the table. The exception to this is if we’re having a big brunch with bacon and eggs.
Obviously, lunch doesn’t work during the week since we are all in different places (and times – my own lunch is often around 2 pm because I start my shift at 10 am). On the weekends, we either eat lunch at different times or our brunch covers the lunchtime period.
However, for the vast majority of dinners, we do eat at the table together. It’s important to me. When I first got my current job I was given a 1 pm to 9 pm shift and I didn’t get to eat supper with my family at all during the week. I missed it so much that I got pretty emotional the first time I got to have supper with my family again when I got my current shift. I still don’t get home until 6:40 most nights so we eat late, but it works for us. When we’re having supper at 8 pm because I went out for a run right after work, we just pretend we’re Parisian, eating a late meal.
Limited device use at the table
I do bring my phone to the table but only because I have a habit of taking photos of whatever we’re eating. After that though, the phone goes elsewhere or at least is put down on the table. When George has band practice and it’s only myself with the three kids, then sometimes I will let Hayley use her phone and Breanna and I will read while we eat. I have a lifelong read-while-eating habit so once a week I don’t mind letting people do their own thing since it’s not all four of us at the table together.
See? Rules, but flexible.
If all four of us ARE eating at the table though, devices and books are put away and we talk while we eat. Sometimes it’s heavy stuff like whatever’s happening in the news lately (and these days there’s a LOT of heavy stuff to discuss), other times it’s what went on in our day, and sometimes it’s just so silly that we’d either make the best or worst reality show on the planet (it could easily go either way!).
It’s what works for us
Of course we have other rules at the table.
- Don’t talk with your mouth full so you don’t choke to death
- Use your cutlery unless it’s appropriate to use your fingers (chicken wings or ribs for example)
- Basic etiquette so you don’t look like a wild animal if you’re eating in public some day
- We aren’t your personal servants, clear your own plate
- Don’t hog the conversation (one family member is still working on this but I shall not name names)
But that’s pretty much it. We try to make it something to look forward to rather than anything too militant. I’ve never believed in being made to clear your plate even if you’re full or having to choke down something that you truly can’t stand. We also try to make the rules fair – if the adults wouldn’t want to follow certain rules (such as eating past being full), then why would we do that to the kids? Our family meals certainly aren’t some utopian bliss or anything, but we enjoy them and it’s a much better positive experience overall.