Mealtime Mayhem

Sitting down to dinner versus five minutes later

One night, when I couldn’t think of anything to make and didn’t have the energy to make it anyway, I came up with the idea to have our first ever “make-it-your-own dinner.” I told the children in a flash of inspiration, “Let’s have a make-it-your-own dinner!” “What does that mean?” they asked. Making it up on the spot I said, “It means you can have anything for dinner as long as you can make it and clean it up.” “Can we have cereal?” (My kids love cereal.) “Sure,” I said. Through all three floors of our home, I heard the kids talking to each other. “Yes, we can have anything we can make!” “YES, SHE SAID WE CAN HAVE CEREAL!” Genius. (Meaning me).

What's for dinner?

“What’s for dinner?” is sometimes the deadliest question at the end of a long day.  No matter what you say, it will be the exact opposite of what the kids want. It’s not that they always actually know what they want. They really only know what they don’t want and about 90% of the time, it’s whatever you are making. I also had a finicky eater, so unless it was hamburgers, hot dogs or pizza, he was never going to like it.

It became a routine, “Mom, what’s for dinner?”


“What kind of food?”

“The kind you eat.”

“MOM—what’s the name of it?”

I would use some sort of name like George, Henry, etc. I answered the question seriously for the first 20 years. After that, I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Unfortunately, dinner comes at the end of the day when chances are, we are all tired. However, there have been studies on the positive effects on children when the family eats dinner together. It is important. I am not suggesting we add another chore to our list by coming up with a mealtime conversation plan spreadsheet, but there are some ways we can use mealtime to interact, converse and connect with our family every day. (Although I’m talking about dinnertime, it doesn’t have to be. It can be breakfast, lunch, dinner, family social time: anything that works for your family.)

I think the first way to have success at mealtimes is to let things happen naturally. One day, my daughter Stephanie had a really hard day. She had made brownies for dessert and noticed that the other kids were a bit down, too. She took a page out of the movie “Notting Hill.” In a scene in the movie, there was one brownie left, and the person who could convince everyone else that their life was the worst got the last brownie.