It must be a combination of things that has led to the demise of our normally enjoyable dinner meal. First, Samuel has yet to be taught much in the way of obedience ( I know, we’re working on it…), so he throws tantrums and throws things, including entire plates and bowls of food. Second, the girls see this behavior going uncorrected and see a door of opportunity for their own level and degree of disobedience. Third, we’re getting ready to go on vacation in a few weeks and I think they are all a little too keyed up. Kinda wish we had waited to tell them until the night before the trip! Fourth, I’ve gotten lazy about our meal time routines. There are probably other factors too, but this is the list of the painfully obvious, so we’ll work from this.
I was reading another blog a couple of days ago and the theme for her most recent post was about streamlining and simplifying meal times with multiple little ones. Right up my alley. She has four kids, I have four kids. She had some great ideas, nothing I hadn’t already done or tried, but it did sort of encourage me to take this maniacal meal-time bull by the horns and regain some semblance of peace during the dinner hour. So the list is more for me, less for you, but if it helps or encourages you in any way, praise the Lord!!
Have a plan. The old adage “fail to plan, plan to fail” is especially true with a house full of children. I like to use a monthly meal plan when possible, and plan menus for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Even if we plan to eat leftovers or go out, I write it down. The visual reminder is helpful and keeps me on track. It also helps us save quite a bit at the grocery since it is so simple to shop for items that we know will be used.
Stay a meal ahead. This has worked beautifully for us. After dinner, we do a very thorough cleaning of the kitchen and then get out the bowls, cups, spoons, cereal boxes, sippy cups, bibs…whatever we are going to need for breakfast the next morning. We keep everything on the counter where the children can access it and the older children help the younger ones make breakfast in the morning. We still all eat at roughly the same time, but if someone is having a slower morning or needs more of my attention prior to breakfast, the others can get started without us. After breakfast, I prep for lunch–making sandwiches if possible, cutting up veggies and fruit, checking to see what leftovers need to be eaten. After lunch, I prepare as much of dinner as possible–defrosting meat, making a casserole, making the salad, scrubbing potatoes. I also get out the plates and utensils we will need for dinner and place them on the counter. One of the children can then easily set the table at the appropriate time.
Plate the food. We used to set the table and then carry all the food to the table to serve. Our children are really too young as a group to pass the food around though, so Hubs and I would spend most of the meal hopping up and down, trying to get everyone what they needed. Now, I fill everyone’s plate in the kitchen and we sit down together to a much less cluttered table. We still have to refill drinks and help the kids with second helpings, but it’s a lot less running around.
Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share! Especially at dinner (when this mama is tired), everyone stays together until the table is cleared, dishes are done, floors are swept, trash is collected, and food is put away. The work goes faster, the kids learn how to do more self-sustaining chores and our family fellowship is extended beyond the table. We even get Samuel involved, or at least keep him happy in his high chair while the rest of us tidy up.
Make lunches from dinner. My friend Ann shared this tip with me at the beginning of the school year and it’s worked so nicely. Before we breakdown the leftovers and store them in the fridge, we pack lunches for whoever needs one the next day. It’s such a time-saver! And, I have plenty of time to make sure those lunches are nutritionally sound, unlike the days when I’m trying to throw a lunch together in under 90 seconds:)
Focus the conversation. I’m sure one day, our dinner time conversation will just naturally flow from one person to the next, with each of us being considerate and kind and understanding. But, until our children are grown-ups, it helps to guide our meal time conversation. Hubs and I would love to take that time to tak about our own days and share with one another, but our children are not yet patient enough to sit through that, so we have to find ways to include them in the conversation. We ask pointed questions about their days. Sometimes we quiz them about Bible trivia or talk about something new they are learning. We try to pay attention to who is talking and who is not, being careful not to let any one child dominate the conversation. This is an important quality we are trying to develop–helping them learn to share about themselves while still listening to others. It’s a hard quality to develop.
Stop a bad meal from becoming worse. Sometimes, despite all our best intentions and good efforts, meal time still descends into chaos. When that happens, we stop. Literally, we have removed everyone’s plates from the table and excused them to their beds until both their attitudes and behavior is corrected. This is so hard to do. It is so much easier to just struggle through the meal with ill-mannered and ill-tempered children. But even when we aren’t actively teaching our children, we’re really still teaching them something, right? I mean, we can have grace for them and their momentary lapses in judgment and manners, but if we allow that to continue, we’re teaching them that they can do it again. We’ve only had to pause and resume a meal twice. Both times, it made a pretty big impression…
So, that’s it. That’s all the wisdom I have on this subject:) I’d love to hear your tips and wisdom, too! Hope your (and our!) meal times are a blessing!