At the dinner table

This is how it goes in my house:

“Kids, dinner’s ready, come to the table.”

Then with a little less patience “Kids! Please come to the table!”

Multiply this by pointlessly high number. Give up calling, start threatening and/ or physically lifting them into their seats.

Cue dinner responses:

Eldest: “What’s this? I don’t like this dinner. Why do we have to have a healthy dinner again today. We had a healthy dinner already yesterday”

Middle-child: “Ugh, I don’t like that thing. What is it? I can’t eat it”

Me: “But you’ve never had roast parsnips before – they’re lovely, like chips only sweeter. And it’s just one piece. Please will you try it?”

Middle-child: “No, I don’t want it on my plate”

Puts parsnip on my plate. I put it back on hers. She puts it back on mine. I put it back on hers (unsure if I am being a consistent parent or stooping to childishness)

Toddler, strapped into a booster seat: “Out! Out!”

Me: “But you haven’t eaten anything – will you eat some dinner?”

Toddler: “No. Out! Out!” Starts lifting pieces of food one by one and carefully placing them on the table beside his plate.

Middle-child disappears under the table. She calls for help. Her dad tries to pull her out. She gives out to him and says he should have known she didn’t really want help. Remarks on how funny everything looks upside down. Asks me why I’m standing – she is sure that I’m standing because my feet are on the floor. If I was sitting, my feet wouldn’t touch the floor apparently. Her plate is exactly as it was when we sat down, except for the parsnip which has now disappeared altogether.

Eldest: “Mum, I’m sorry, I know you made this lovely dinner for us, but I just amn’t a fan of parsnips, I just don’t love them.”

Me: “What about the lovely baked ham? You really liked the one we had at Christmas?”

Eldest: “It’s pig. I don’t really eat pig dinners. I’m not a fan”

She hops off chair and tries feeding the toddler some mash potato but accidentally pokes him with a fork. He cries, I give out to her, she cries, I apologise.

Middle-child: “Mum may I be excused?”

Me: “But you didn’t eat anything – this is it, no more food tonight, it’s bedtime now. Are you sure you don’t want anything?”

Middle-child: “I’m sure mum, I’m just not hungry”

Eldest: “I’m not hungry either, may I be excused? I promise I don’t want anything else to eat” Runs out of the room to play before I can answer.

Toddler, now free from his booster seat, climbs on my knee and insists on drinking my water and sticking his hands into my remaining (now cold) food. He cries when I take the water away from him so I give it back – he then pours it into my dinner.

My husband is very well-behaved – he doesn’t leave the table and eats all his dinner.

Eventually we give up. We clear the table and tell the kids it’s time for bed.

Eldest: “Mum, I’m hungry, can I just have a yogurt before bed?”

Middle-child: “Yes, me too – can I have a banana? And a drink?”

Right so.

I just need to know two things:

I need to know that other families have “mealtimes” that are equally chaotic.

And I need to know that it gets better – that sometime in the future, insisting on family mealtime will pay off, and it will be a happy, relaxing, enjoyable experience where people actually eat the food and chat to one another and stay at the table for the entire meal.

Lie to me if you have to.




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34 thoughts on “At the dinner table”

  1. It sound all too familure. My 3yo once insisted that she was too tired to eat her dinner. We stood firm and asked her if she would like to go for a nap if she was too tired to eat ( she hasn’t napped in over a year) so she went up to bed and stayed there for 10-15 mins before shouting down to us that she was now awake after a big sleep.

    1. ha ha clever three year old – love it! Yes we get a lot of “I’m just too tired to eat” and then full of beans (or not, as the case may be) immediately afterwards

  2. I can only answer the first question. Yes it is the same in our house. My 2 year old tells me at the first mention of dinner ‘No, I’m not having dinner, I don’t like it.’ We also have the 5 year old insisting on eating with his hands. Never his fork. Unless it’s something that an adult should cut for him, then he will definitely want to use both his knife and fork. We barely have things cleared and I hear ‘I’m a little bit hungry’. And so it goes on until bedtime. The 2 year old inevitably has porridge going to bed, I’m sure oats are a balanced meal right? And I let the 5 year old eat with his hands so he does eat something. Someday in the future it’ll all sort itself out right?
    laura @ dairyfreekids recently posted…Recipe: Chocolate Chip CookiesMy Profile

    1. If it wasn’t for porridge, I actually don’t know where we’d be so I think you’re on track there! My fussy six-year-old is obsessed with porridge and I figure it’s better than lots and lots of things she could be eating. And yes,some day in the future it will definitely sort itself out. I’m sure someone is going to come and tell us that. Any minute.

  3. God, at least you get them to the table. Bad mother that I am, they can eat it off the floor (it’s on a plate but the plate is on the floor IYKWIM) as long as they eat it. In fact the only family meal we ever have together is our Saturday morning breakfast in the cafe in town. LOVE roast parsnips BTW. Def going to do those next week. Oh, and regardless of what they have to eat, that bedtime snack thing goes on here too. Drives. Me. Demented!
    Wonderful Wagon recently posted…Zapped!My Profile

    1. Love roast parsnips too! Keep telling the kids that they’re practically sweets they’re so lovely but no. My toddler gets to eat (from a plate) on the floor too – he never eats his dinner so when he’s having his TV time after, I put the plate on front of him and sometimes he eats without thinking about it, glued to TV. BAD MOTHER!

    1. I wonder if kids and adults really do need different amounts of sleep, or if the window between their bedtime and ours has been invented just to let us recover from dinner 🙂

  4. Yes this is very much like our house,except without the conversations.I feel like I’m in purgatory trying everyday to get Mini to eat something that isn’t potato or bread based.She is the queen of bland foods.I cheat sometimes by putting on cartoons on the tablet at the table and helping her to put food in her gob.By the time she realises what she’s eaten,she’s half the bowl eaten.Its not great though.Why,why won’t they eat?
    Aedín Collins recently posted…Mini Free SpiritMy Profile

    1. I hear ya on the bland foods – same here. They would eat pasta morning, noon and night, but try putting a vegetable on front of them and it’s like they’ve been pinched or stung!
      I have also given the toddler his plate when he’s on front of the TV very regularly, as a way of getting him to eat without thinking about it, after the meal is over. Whatever works I’d say!

  5. We have always had meal times. I minded children so with my own, there were a lot of little ones at the table. As a result they ate without trouble and the conversation was brilliant.
    Roll on to a Sat and all changed. My gang on their own were not interested in coming to meals without the other children and disliked and picked apart everything they were given!
    Fast forward to today. All fairly grown up now and it has all been worth it. Family meal time is expected by them and something they enjoy. The slagging and craic at the table is great fun, and at last they are eating a more varied diet. So hang in there it will be worth it in the end, especially as my gang are out and about so much, it’s the one time they are all together, (not every day, but as many as possible and definitely a Sunday)
    tric recently posted…Series of letters. Letter 24.My Profile

    1. Tric your comment gives me great hope! I figure if we keep persevering, it’ll eventually pay off. We always had family meals growing up, and I’m determined to do the same for my kids – whether they like it or not 🙂

  6. Hang in there. I honestly believe it is our childhoods that bind us together as a family. We too had the maddest, liveliest meals together growing up, and into out twenties. I do not want my children to miss out on that and reading your posts I know you will succeed.
    tric recently posted…Series of letters. Letter 24.My Profile

  7. All so familiar!! Christmas dinner was eaten this year with one little boy sitting ON the table!! My ‘favourite’ memory of meal times is our Spanish Au Pairs horrified face as I BELLOWED at the kids NO SPEAKING UNTIL HALF YOUR DINNERS EATEN…eeeek!
    The only rule that I insist on, and they listen to, is that no one leaves the table until everyone is finished, sometimes the eat out if sheer boredom!!
    It will improve….won’t it???

    1. Oh love that he ate sitting on the table!! I am fully on board with your stay-at-the-table rule – we’ll bore them into eating eventually 🙂

  8. I feel better now. Since we’ve only recently reinstated dinners-at-the-table for children as well as adults, and even though I am a terrible person who Panders and gives them what they like instead of what we’re eating, this still happens. The “I’m full” followed by “Now I’m hungry” particularly drives me insane. We have an intervening step of “I want dessert!” too. Minefield.
    Maud recently posted…Non-nativeMy Profile

    1. Or the “I’m full of dinner food but I’m hungry for something else, like yogurt. But no, I’ve no space to finish my chicken – I’m up to HERE” Oh Yes.

  9. We had mealtimes like this as kids and I have them with my two boys now. I can say hand on heart that the happiest times are with my family around the table, breakfast merging into lunch, dinner merging into whiskey. Stick with it, painful now but it pays off in the long term.

    1. Love that! That’s a great way to look at it. I feel the same about mealtimes with my dad and sisters – hours spent nattering and eating and drinking. So that’s worth aspiring to. Thank you

  10. Sounds like my house,twins girls nearly 4 and an 11 month old blweaner!
    Lamb koftas tonight,baby eats 2,twins nearly vomit at the sight of them on the plate. One says her fork doesn’t work so ended up Spoonfeeding her to get something in. The other days no way to lamb koftas whilst heaving and the asks for peanut butter sandwich. Everyday is a battle

      1. Oh aren’t babies the business when it comes to eating, and then something just changes at two or three and they get so fussy! I thought when my eldest was one and eating everything that I was just lucky, that I had a good eater. Now she won’t eat a single vegetable of any kind. By the way, the lamb koftas sound dee-lish..

  11. And that’s why in our house the kids eat early, without the adults, with kid friendly food. At the weekend we tend to have family brunches and maybe go out for Sunday lunch but I just can’t abide the whole thing of cooking a lovely dinner for everyone that gets ignored/ trashed/ spat out/ screamed at. DS likes pasta and potatoes and not much else, DD will eat most things but not the things that the adults like (curries, stir fries, casseroles) so the kids eat seperately and it means a far more peaceful house and no more cold dinners for Mum! I do try to make double of the things that everyone to save double cooking though. I’m not a total eejit!

  12. Oh yes – this is our house too. Drives me crazy! Especially when our three year old decides that the thing he has always eaten happily (it was pasta this week) is now something completely abhorrent to him. The other thing that drives me mad is his habit of picking off any ‘bits’ from his food, be they the tiniest trace of herbs that I’ve added to our family meal or the smallest edge of something baked that is a little more brown. I think the meal time thing is the most stressful part of parenting.
    Kelly Taylor recently posted…My Captured Moment #1 ‘Cheeky Faces’My Profile

    1. Yes! That thing of claiming to not like a previously adored food – unreal!! And picking bits off. Stirring and peering with little suspicious looks on their faces… revenge will be ours when they’re trying to get their own kids to eat and we’re watching quietly with secret smiles 🙂

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