Bringing everyone to the table can either be a whole lot of fun or a whole lot of disaster. Whether you are struggling to make better food decisions or simply want to calm the chaos your family may bring with them when they sit down to their plate, establishing meal time boundaries can be incredibly beneficial in creating a stress-free, supportive meal time routine.
Table Rules in our Household
At the Mora household, we have clear expectations set for meal time. Not only do these table rules help minimize stress, they also help everyone at the table approach it with familiarity and confidence.
Now if you know me well, you know that I’m not a big fan of rigid, burdensome rules. That’s because “following the rules” isn’t really the point. But sometimes guidelines are incredibly helpful tools that can help you better achieve the outcome that you want.
When it comes to meals, my primary objectives are for them to be nourishing and enjoyable. Our family table rules reflect that and set the stage. They also help build a consistent and safe routine for our kids and our foster kids. Something incredibly important to ensuring meals work for everyone.
Meals are eaten at the table. In our house, whenever food is eaten, it’s happening at the table. This sets the stage and minimizes distraction. Breakfast and snacks are eaten at the table in our breakfast nook while dinners are served in the dining room.
One meal is served. Each meal I serve has great potential for promoting positive eating in my children. Because of this, I don’t cater. Instead, I serve one meal with and supplement it as needed with foods that are more familiar or safe for everyone around the table. For example, the photo below is an example of a pretty typical dinner at my house. My husband grilled burgers and vegetable kabobs with a Balsamic reduction glaze. We also served up cherries… oh yeah, and goldfish crackers.
This method ensures everyone’s preferences are accounted for, but still provides opportunity to explore new options if the night calls for it.
Food exploration is encouraged. So I’m just going to let you know this up front – most of the time when my kids try something new I’ve created, they aren’t big fans. These zucchini noodles were pretty much the one exception! But that’s okay, because it takes a long LONG time for kids to get to a point of enjoying a food. In fact, a child may need to be exposed to a new food with no expectation to like it upwards of 15-20 times! So just relax, establish an open-minded approach to meal time, and let your kids do the rest.
It’s okay to not eat everything, but manners matter. When food exploration is encouraged, you can expect a fair share of negative reviews. Unfortunately, when one of our children bellows out an “Ew!” or “Disgusting” group think takes over and no one will touch that poor defenseless food (by the way – it’s usually a vegetable in case you were wondering). To keep an open-minded approach, we make sure all our kids know they don’t have to like everything BUT that they should keep negative comments to themselves because others may actually find it appealing. We’re still working on this one, but its important table etiquette we’re working on.
How to Create Your Own Table Rules
Although these table rules might work for you and your family like they do for mine, don’t be afraid to create your own guidelines. Keep them simple and easy to reinforce at each mealtime and never forget why you set them in the first place. Hopefully, these table rules will help establish an environment that everyone feels safe to join.
In need of more inspirational ground rules to get you started? I love the approach fellow registered dietitian Paige Smathers takes in her article “Secrets of Successful Meals with Young Kids.” According to Paige, even giving your kids the opportunity to say no can be a good thing.