Dinnertime: Is it about the dinner, or the time?

I really wanted to scream at the top of my lungs that night.  It was dinner-time and I was engaged in yet another battle with my 4-year-old over what I had made for dinner.  No matter how many times I readied myself for the fight, I almost always lost.  Whether it was losing the battle of wills, losing my temper, or losing out on being able to have some quality time with my boys.

My frustration was at its boiling point and I could feel the scream linger in my throat.  But I swallowed it.  And then I just started to cry.   I didn’t know what else to do.  Dinner-time.  Otherwise known as, I-don’t-like-what-mom-made-and-I’m-going-to-whine-and-negotiate-and-cry-and-ruin-dinnertime- time.

I have two picky boys, so dinner has been a chore for the last few years now.  As time passed, I began to actually dread dinner time and would find myself getting on-edge and snarky with people knowing the battle that was ahead of me.

“What are we having?”,   “What are you cooking?”, “I don’t like Teryaki Chicken”, “That tastes yucky”.  “Please try it”.  “I don’t WANT to try it”.  “Eat 3 bites of it, or eat nothing at all”.  “Nooooooo”.

Dinner had become, simply put, one big long twenty-minute food fight between parents and kids.   I can remember feeding my children grilled scallops and peas on our back deck in the summers when they were two years old.  And then one day  they decided that if dinner didn’t involve chicken tenders or PB&J, they didn’t like it.

They eat what you put on the table or they don’t eat anything at all and that’s that”.

I swear, if I hear just one more person say this to me, I’m going to tie them to a chair and force-feed them the burnt Risotto that I screwed up the other night.  Well, this “tactic”…… it’s not working in my house.  And the reason it’s not working is because I can no longer stand the nightly arguing anymore about what I’ve made for dinner, who doesn’t like this, who doesn’t’ like that, how many bites they have to eat before they can get down, threatening putting them in their rooms if they don’t follow the rules, and so on and so on.

It’s wearing me down.  If there aren’t threats and whining happening AT the table, then there is a screaming and thrashing child upstairs in his room as the rest of us are all trying to sit quietly and finish our dinner while my 4-year-old pounds on the door.

We were dangerously bordering on looking like a scene from hells kitchen.

waddya mean you don't like spaghetti??  You did three weeks ago!?!?!
What do you  mean you don’t like spaghetti?? You did three weeks ago!?!?!

I don’t want my kids to associate eating with stress, threats and anger, even if they are eating their Brussel Sprouts.  As a matter of fact, it seems likely there would be far more potential for future eating disorders when eating has been paired with shame, guilt, and anger.   I’d rather them enjoy the act of eating and associate it with hanging out and talking and connecting with each other, not stress.

The questions I started asking myself were, “Is all of this stress and anxiety and arguing and temper tantrums really worth making my children eat their beans?”.  When they leave the table hungry because, “well if they don’t like what I cook then they don’t eat anything at all”, really worth the fact that for the next two hours before bed-time, not only will I have a cranky and over-tired child who has been at school all day, but he’ll be hungry on top of that, which means twice as many meltdowns and an increased inability to control himself because he’s tired and hungry?  Then not only was dinner shot, the remainder of our evening is going to suck as well.

Are my children really going to grow up to be gluttons who eat whatever they want whenever they want because I didn’t force them to eat my homemade beef stew or nothing at all?

And I’ve decided no.  Dinnertime at our house is going to focus more on the time aspect.

None of those things is worth it to me anymore.  I want my dinnertime with my family to be about connecting with them, talking about our days, hearing about the things they did at school, cracking jokes and just having a stress-free twenty minutes.  We all have busy, hectic lives and at this point, coming together as a family in an enjoyable way, outweighs my need to have them eat every single thing I put on the table in a game of wills.

This doesn’t mean they are going to eat Pop-Tarts for dinner.

It also doesn’t mean that I’m going to force-feed them quinoa (what is that stuff anyway?  People always used to bring it to potlucks and act like it was some kind of chocolate truffle).

What the F#*@ is quinoa?????
What the F#*@ is quinoa?????

And the thing is, they do eat a lot of healthy food.  During the day, I put out bowls of fruit on the kitchen counter.  If they want to graze…… graze on fruit then.  I put the yogurt and cheese sticks and applesauce in the fridge on the shelf they can reach.  I make dinner and ask them to try some of the things I’ve put out.  If we’re having things like Haddock or something like that, I’ll make them each something they like and then ask them to have some of the vegetable I’ve put out.  Once in a while they are brave enough to try some fish or other meat.  And there are also the rare times that they’ve been brave enough to try something new and actually liked it!!!  Go figure!!!

The other night, during our new, no-fighting dinner-time, the boys announced what they’re plans were when they each got a girlfriend, which I quickly reminded them they would not be able to do until they were 14 years old.

Si was going to take her for a nice long walk down our dirt road and into the woods and bring a picnic.  Sam was going to drink Dr. Pepper with her and bring her hunting, although she was going to have to wear camouflage and follow him and be quiet because he knows where the good spots are.   It opened up the greatest conversation about how to treat girls and how to always help with the dishes and talk nicely to them and so on.

Would I have been a better parent if I spent the twenty minutes making them choke down Haddock and steamed broccoli?

This picture is bullshit.  You can clearly see the girl in blue is saying "hurry the hell up and take the picture because this piece of asparagus is so gross and the girl in pink isn't even trying to pretend.
This picture is bullshit.  Asparagus.  Really.  They’re clearly being forced to look happy here.

I’ll tell ya, what I’ve learned so far, is that having a quiet dinner and connecting with my children emotionally is way, WAY more important to me then making sure they eat just the right portions from the 4 organic food groups.  My kids are picky.  They don’t like onions.  They will someday.   I didn’t like them either once upon a time.  Now, I love them.  I want them in everything.   Teaching good eating habits is a lifelong ordeal, not just something you drill into them when they’re young.  As long as you’re not sitting in front of the couch everyday inhaling an entire bag of Cheetos, it’ll all be okay.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go draw up a chart to show my kids just how many more years they have to wait until they’re 14.