Our Rules for House Meals

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Tonight my family went out to a Greek restaurant for my mom’s birthday. The waiter asked what the kids would like, then rattled off the options of the kids’ menu since he didn’t bring one out. I think it included some type of pizza, a grilled cheese sandwich and some sort of chicken nugget. When he finished, my oldest said, “mom, I want the lamb souvlaki”. Then, my 3-year-old said, “I want the calamari and salad”. The waiter looked stunned.

This has happened many times. While we’ve never really set a rule that our children cannot order from a kids’ menu, we have been intentional about serving them ‘real food’ in our home to encourage them to eat ‘real food’ when we eat out as well. Food can be full of flavor, variety, and color and we’ve chosen to tackle this head-on now, with the hope they will not struggle with it later.

My husband and I have set some rules or boundaries in our home for mealtime to promote healthy eating. We want our children to enjoy food, to embrace trying new things, and to be grateful for the food provided.

Our rules:

  1. We serve one meal. We can minimize a certain type of food on a child’s plate if we know that it is not a favorite, not simply because they say they don’t like it. Our middle daughter (3 years old) says she does not like a lot of different food; though, once she tries it, she enjoys it. We know this is a phase, not a reflection of her tastebuds. On the other hand, our oldest (5 years old) doesn’t prefer the texture of mushrooms. She eats them, but after serving them again and again, it is evident they are not her favorite. So, when we serve them, we cut them up smaller for her at her request and we give her less (more for me!). We will also minimize the spiciness of the food.
  2. Our children do not have to finish their meal at mealtime, but they do have to finish the meal BEFORE they eat any other meal or snack. We also make sure to serve them a child’s size portion so that it is not an overwhelming amount of food. We have this rule so they do not just wait out mealtime in favor of their favorite snack. We also do not feel it is appropriate to MAKE them eat their entire meal if they are not hungry; we want them to listen to their body cues to make that decision.
  3. We encourage ‘gratitude first‘ attitude. No comments or complaining about a meal before saying that you are thankful for the food AND the time spent preparing the food. We know that we are blessed to have the option to eat healthy food and that it takes time to prepare it. We want them to acknowledge that before they ask requests anything else.
  4. Keep your yucks to yourself. My husband had this rule growing up and I love it so much that we have implemented with our girls too. We have adopted it for our family because it is discouraging and disrespectful to hear ‘yuck’ when you put the time into preparing a meal, whether it be at our house or someone else’s house. We also do not want someone’s food preference to influence another’s at the table. For instance, if our 5-year-old ran around saying yuck about mushrooms, I am certain our 3-year-old would soon be saying yuck too.
  5. We imitate the behavior that we want them to adopt. If we want them to eat salad, we serve salad and we eat salad. If we don’t want them saying ‘yuck’, we do not say ‘yuck’. If we want them to eat different food, we eat different food.
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Of course, our kids are still kids and the rules do not always work perfectly. When they don’t, we lovingly remind them of one of our rules and they self-correct. We have had many conversations and role-plays surrounding these rules to help them understand their purpose in our house. These rules have helped us create a loving, positive mealtime experience for the kids and the chef (my husband or I).

What are your house rules?

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