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Our Family Never Misses A Meal: Getting Kids to Eat Their Supper (plus our favorite recipes)

Please, pass the mashed potatoes and don’t hog the gravy.”


Some of my best memories revolved around the dinner table. Holidays and many in-between days found me settled at the family table with my mom, grandparents, young aunts and uncles amidst good food and even better conversation. Graduated out of a high chair, I remember the delight of sitting (propped up on the silverware box) next to my grandmother at the head of the table. I learned the value of keeping your elbows off the table and your manners minded.

Those meals took some preparing. There were duties to fulfill in order to get everything to our plates. Uncle Tom was the master of salads and I recall watching as he shook the dressing packet into the oil in Grandma’s glass bottle. Clean up always seemed to fall to the women of the household, who filled the kitchen with chatter as they washed and dried and put away those Corelle dishes. 

My grandmother managed to keep her family bonded, even after her youngest fled the nest, by officiating a once a week family supper to which we were all expected to return. Those meals not only filled my belly, they nourished my spirit, my heart and my mind.

Rules for the Dinner Table

When I started my own family, my husband  and I agreed that dinner time was important (dare I even say, sacred) so we laid down some ground rules early on.

  1. Everyone sits for dinner together.

  2. Only one meal is served and everyone must eat what is served.

  3. You are free to leave food behind, but you cannot have dessert if you can’t finish your dinner.

  4. No one leaves the table without being excused by dad or mom.

  5. Everyone remains at the table until dinner is declared over.

Everyone sits for dinner together.

Being the only ones to beat my grandparents’ record (they had 6 kids), we inherited their dining room table. That table was actually a deciding factor when we were house hunting as we needed a room big enough to house it (with both extension leaves installed). We all sit down together every night.

This is our time to regroup, to recount our day, and to hash out plans. Everything else revolves around dinnertime to the extent that we set schedules to insure we can eat a healthy meal together. Television, radios and cell phones are not invited to the table or anywhere nearby.

Only one meal is served and everyone must eat what is served.

Eight kids in and we are proud to say that not a one is a picky eater. Okay, forgive me if it seems like I am bragging, but honestly we never never ever cater to a finicky eater. My husband is the chef around here. He comes home at the end of his work day and whips up fantastic meals. It would be an insult to snub our noses at his meals so we don’t.

Admittedly, sometimes the chili is a bit spicier than Lilia likes and I’ve been known to silently hold my breath while eating extra gamey tasting deer steaks, but the rule still holds. One family=one meal. I really believe (barring allergies) that children learn to be difficult dinner guests. I feel quite confident that poor children aren’t passing up any morsels.

You are free to leave food behind, but you cannot have dessert if you can’t finish your dinner.

My kids are highly motivated by dessert which generally consists of a small bowl of ice cream or two cookies. We learned with son numero uno that it is no fun to dedicate our nightly conversation to begging, bartering and cajoling a kid into eating his broccoli, so we don’t.

The policy is simple and everyone knows we stick to our guns, so our darlings police themselves when it comes to wiping the plate clean. Now I have heard the complaint that this can teach children to overeat, but I disagree.

If they help themselves to reasonable portions, they should eat what they take (or receive). If their tummies are too full to finish, they are too full for dessert and late night snacks. And if a sweet one opts to skip a meal in defiance, trust me, they will not starve to death over night!

No one leaves the table without being excused by dad or mom.

I shake my head (internally) every time I hear a parent complain about a child’s eating habits right after he was allowed to bolt from the table mid-course. Like I said, dinner is about more than food and so everyone needs to be present. Having children ask to be excused (and waiting for your reply) teaches them respect for your authority as well as respect for the other guests at table. 

Everyone remains at the table until dinner is declared over.
An occasional brief, rest room break is acceptable, but dashing up out of the seat before the meal is declared done is not. Sitting a while longer allows everyone to have a chance to talk, to listen and to digest. And it inspires those less than happy eaters (the ones leaving the squash on their plates until the last minute) to continue grazing from their plates. Additionally, if everyone leaves the table together, then no one is able to mysteriously disappear at clean-up time.

Take My Advice

If you are just starting out, take my advice. Set the household agenda so that your family circles the table at least once a day; giving one another their undivided time and attention. “But it’s soccer season,”you say. Well, then factor the times into the schedule and sit down as a family either before or after practice. If you make this time your priority, it will work out.

If your family is in the habit of dining and dashing, leaving behind half-eaten portions or demanding tailor-made courses, then stop and take back the reins. It is never too late to reevaluate and begin anew. Get the kids involved to help them re-adjust and feel responsible. 

The evening meal has always represented more than a venue for stuffing our bellies. So, especially now in this time of fast food and fractured families, it is time to reclaim the supper table.

homemade all-natural garlic and olive oil dressing for salad

We place a lovely salad on the table first and everyone takes a serving. In the past, when we used bottled dressings we ate smaller helpings of salad. Then we switched to homemade Invisible Dressing and now it isn’t uncommon for kids to ask for seconds. One of our sons is responsible for making the salad. Here’s our recipe (as handed down to us from Poppy):

Poppy’s Invisible Salad Dressing:

(amounts are based on feeding 9 people)

1 head of Romaine lettuce

4-5 cloves of fresh, raw garlic

1 ¼ tsp coarse salt

pepper to taste

½ C extra virgin olive oil

¼ C red wine vinegar

Cut, wash and spin the lettuce (we love our salad spinner!)
Remove the garlic cloves from their skin, then crush them along with the salt directly in the bowl (we prefer a wooden bowl), Add pepper to taste.

Add the olive oil and be sure to mix the crush garlic into it. Let sit for a few minutes.

While that it sitting, cut up some tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese and olives and add them to the lettuce pile.
Now toss the lettuce and extras into the bowl with the oil and toss until everything is coated (but not dripping) in the garlic/oil mixture. Then, just before serving drizzle the red wine vinegar over the complete salad and toss again. Voila! A delicious, nutritious start to our meal. 

We like to keep beverages clear and minimal, so that the kids don’t fill up on liquids. Drinks should accompany a meal, not replace it. Another son assumes the duty of beverage maker (in addition to the pitcher of water always at the table). Here is his recipe for homemade Southern Lemonade:

home made lemon lime lemonadeNikolai’s Fresh Southern Lemonade
This recipe should make you one gallon. Feel free to add or subtract sugar or juice to suit your taste.

 3 lemons
2 limes
1 Cup sugar
2 Cups boiling water
10 Cups cold water

To get the juice out of the lemons, I use one of these things:

But any other juicer or even just your hands work as well.

First, it’s a good idea to wash and scrub the lemons and limes, as they have a thin layer of wax coating and possibly residue from pesticides. 

Second, squeeze as much juice out of the lemons and limes as you can. I’ve heard before that if you microwave them beforehand for 10 seconds, they are supposed to yield more juice. Personally, I’ve never noticed a big difference. 

Third, dissolve your sugar into the boiling water. Add the sugar water to the citrus juice.

Fourth, add cold water and ice to your taste. Some people prefer their drinks near freezing, whereas I kind of like them chilled.

Fifth, It’s pretty easy and tasty to add other fruits and herbs if you wish. Grapefruit makes for pink lemonade, oranges, mint, and pomegranates are also pretty good. Go ahead and experiment! 

Leave a Comment

8 Comments on “Our Family Never Misses A Meal: Getting Kids to Eat Their Supper (plus our favorite recipes)”

  • This is great!! I am like you..we sat for dinner as a family & it is very important for me to incorporate that into our family. We sit, talk about the day, eat ONE meal (no short order cooks in our house 🙂 )…and you covered the other rules that have been set for our family.

  • This is something I might consider when my baby gets older, especially if I have more children. It seems like a very nice ritual and something the kids will remember long after you are gone.

  • We do all but sitting until everyone is done. This is in part due to one in particular taking about 15 extra minutes to eat enough (not always to a finish) to be excused.

  • I love your dinner rules! My family never ate around a table when I was growing up, and I think it was a real loss.

    The salad and lemonade recipes both look yummy!

  • This is a great set of rules for having at the dinner table. I've tried to implement similar rules at my dinner table with varying degrees of success. It doesn't help that my husband tends to eat quickly and then disappears to watch TV. Your recipes are terrific.

  • Great advice! We have learned some of these lessons by trial and error. 😉 The recipes sound great, and since today is shopping day, I'm adding ingredients to my list!

  • Great recipes and great tips! We definitely have to work on the not getting up unless you are excused part. It drives me nuts!

  • I think those rules are great! You sound like a great mother!
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