Mealtimes in our home have always been casual and chaotic, with Brett and I basically eating while standing over the kids – trying to keep them in their seats while dishing out seconds from the stove. We have always made dinner as a family a priority, but, I have to admit, we haven’t done it very successfully.
A few months ago, I read Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross, which offered great advice for how to simplify the lives of over-scheduled and overstimulated kids. One of the big takeaways for me was the importance of establishing daily, family routines – such as mealtimes. So, I decided to improve this part of our family’s schedule by adding some structure.
- We Set the table. Believe it or not, we never used to actually “set the table” — unless of course, we had guests over. Brett and I would make the plates for the kids at the counter and serve them at their seats. Now, Theo’s daily chore is to set the table, complete with cloth napkins, drinks, and silverware.
- We wait for everyone to be seated. Most of the time, Brett and I wouldn’t even sit down to eat unless one of us was feeding the baby. Brett and I still make all the plates at the counter, but we bring them all over to the table and wait for everyone to be seated and ready to eat before we begin.
- We don’t have toys or electronics at the table. At this point, this “rule” is more for Brett and I than the kids, but I wanted to set the precedent early AND lead by example. Someday, I won’t want my kids on their phones during family dinner, so I shouldn’t have my phone at the table either.
- We talk. Every night, we go around the table and share our favorite part of the day. Sometimes we ask additional questions like “if you could be any fruit, what would you be?” and silly things like that. As the kids grow older, I hope we are able to keep having dinner discussions. We also say thank you. I usually ask the kids “Who can we thank for this meal?” and they thank whoever made it [lately it’s been Brett], and the farmers who grew it and the grocery store employee that sold it and the animal they are eating [if they are eating an animal, since Eva and I don’t eat meat]. This replaces the typical “saying grace” and I much prefer it because it allows us the opportunity to thank everyone involved in giving us food.
- We practice table manners. My kids are finally at the age where they need to be taught table manners, like holding their silverware properly and wiping their faces with their napkins and not their t-shirts.
The other part of simplifying mealtime [also found in Simplicity Parenting] is simplifying food for your kids. It’s been a few years since I began our family practice of eating [nearly] zero processed foods, and I feel like that simplification has made tremendous improvements to our health and our energy and our overall well-being [not to mention our finances].
To read more about how we simplify our food, here are some of my blog posts about our food choices: