Monday, June 20, 2011

Dinner Revolution: What But Not When

At our house, kids and mealtime are like water and oil.  My dreams were dashed early on in the game.  I love to cook, and pre-children, I had envisioned that our family meals would make Norman Rockwell jealous and June Cleaver green with envy.  It turns out I was more likely to sprout a third arm.

The first thing I learned was that once you have a child you don't actually get to eat anymore.  When they are babies someone has to feed them, and I had not realized that if I am feeding a baby I would not be feeding myself.  Eventually, they do learn to feed themselves but their constant needs are just as brutal.  Cold food swallowed and not chewed has quickly become the routine.  I could hear Norm and June laughing hysterically at me and my naive assumptions.

Chaos: 1 - Mama Jenni: 0

Things changed at one of our routine well-child appointments. Our pediatrician asked how meals were going and I voiced my frustration.  He then said something that changed our table time forever.  He asked, "Why do they have to eat when you eat?  The purpose is family time.  As long as they are at the table, who cares if they eat?  You choose what.  Let them chose when."  WHAT??  It had never crossed my mind that they did not have to eat when we eat. He could see my panic and said, "There is not one recorded case of a young child starving themselves to death.  They will eat when they are hungry." 

I was desperate.  I gave it a try.  At the next meal everyone came to the table, and when the chimes of, "I'm not hungry," and, "I don't like it," came I simply replied, "You don't have to eat, but you do have to stay at the table with us."  They looked at me like I was speaking Chinese so I repeated myself and I added, "This is your dinner, but you don't have to eat right now."

It was amazing.  My husband and I both ate our meals while they were warm and the kids talked and told funny stories.  The war was over.  I didn't necessarily win the battle, but what I learned is that it wasn't even a fight I should have entered.  I would choose what and they could choose when.  Best.  Advice.  Ever. 

Now, we all come to the table and the people who are hungry eat, and the people who are not hungry do not eat at that time.  The focus is on family, not food.  We talk about our day, tell jokes and play "Name That Tune" on Pandora.  Occasionally, it even turns into a dance party.  I love it.

And on a positive note, no one has starved to death.  It turns out doc was right.  They will eat when they are hungry and all I have to do is provide them with good food choices.  #2 usually ends up eating at dinner but #1 often eats his plate an hour or so later, unless dessert is involved and then his healthy food becomes a higher priority.  My husband and I love our new roles.  We just state the facts.  "This is your choice.  Feel free to eat it when you are hungry."  

So it turns out that my pre-child vision was attainable after all.  It may not look quite like a Norman Rockwell painting, and I am pretty sure June never busted out a little Katy Perry while pouring milk, but we do come to the table and enjoy each other at the end of our day and that is my dream come true!

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