6 Tips for a Drama-Free Dinner Table

Has dinner in your house become a war of wills? You know the scene: Your efforts to cook a delicious, nutritious meal might be met with un-interest, crying, or a little sibling dispute. (Cue a nice big glass of wine…) Rather than get swept up in dinnertime drama, use these 5 tips to allow peace and happiness to reign over your household.

1. BE A LOVER, NOT A FIGHTER

Fighting over untouched food never works. Resist the temptation to bribe or punish, and use a calm and kind demeanor, instead. If they say they’re done after one bite, tell them that’s fine, but they need to wait until everyone else is done eating. When they ask for something different, simply explain this is what is for dinner tonight. Stand firm and don’t waiver—in little time they will dig in without much (or any) fuss.

2. AVOID THE DINNER DEATH MATCH

It is so tempting to look at your picky eater and compare them to others at the table à la “Look, your brother likes it, he is such a good eater.” This only breeds resentment and invites a whole bunch of unnecessary sibling rivalry. Hand out love and praise for good manners and other daily accomplishments, but avoid creating a competition at the family table.

3. PLAY FAVORITES

Providing one food that you know the whole family enjoys can really help your cause. Whether it is whole grain bread or slices of cucumber, offer up an option that everyone gets excited about eating. This will encourage anyone who’s not thrilled about the rest of the meal. Differing tastes? Give each family member a night to choose their favorite (healthy) food and rotate the schedule.

4. IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED…

It can take up to 10 or more exposures to the same food until a kid truly decides whether they don’t care for it, according to studies like this one. Plus, as children grow their tastes and preferences are constantly changing. Presentation also makes a big difference. Try making some small changes in preparation—roasted broccoli instead of steamed, or sauces and dressings on the side for dipping rather than mixed with other foods. At times it may feel like you’re banging your head against the kitchen counter, but it is a rewarding feeling when you see your kiddos actually come around to a food they swore off the week before.

5. START YOUR SOUS CHEFS YOUNG

Most kids get super excited to do anything grown-ups do—including making dinner. Let them take an active role in what will be served and how it will be made. Sit down and put together a dinner plan for the week. Let them research and pick out a new food they’re interested in trying, then have them lend a hand in preparing it. Giving your little ones a bit of the control can be a dinnertime game changer.

6. RELAX!

Some meals will just be failures. On some nights there will be spillage and horrible manners and maybe even tears. Get over it, move on, and trust that it’s okay. Avoiding the drama when possible will make more room for fun, food, and family time.