How I Use Mealtime for Discipline, Conversation and Education

There are a lot of things I’m not great at in life, but I excel at dinner time. While serving chicken nuggets in front of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse might make some aspects of my day easier, I refuse. Family dinner is too important.

My children’s health, education, and well-being mean too much for me to pass up this learning opportunity.

Mealtime is the best time to learn manners.

Manners matter and mealtimes are a great time to work on them. I’m talking beyond please pass the salt. Whoever helped to make our meal gets a thank you from everyone eating. While I enjoy being told, “Thank you Mommy for making this beautiful dinner,” I like even more to be able to see my son’s pride when I thank him for chopping vegetables for our dinner. Dinner makes our team stronger.

We eat the same meal.

Since he’s a child, he can only eat what I prepare. Though his favorite food is probably bread with butter, he’ll eat just about anything that’s served to him because he knows that’s the only option.

Some nights he eats dinner willingly, and others he’s slow because he’s not into it. Yes, it can be frustrating and exhausting, but parenting isn’t always about sunshine and rainbows. I remind him if he wants to grow strong and be healthy, he has to eat a variety of foods. While he doesn’t have to eat the dinner I’ve prepared, there’s no other option, and he’ll have to wait until breakfast if he wants something else. I think he’s chosen twice to not eat, only to come back later and sit down and eat.

That said, I do try to make good tasting food I think everyone will enjoy, and most nights I’m successful. He’s learned that he doesn’t have to love every bit of food that’s presented to him. It’s just one meal. Life will go on. Chew, swallow, get over it. I find myself applying this lesson to so many things throughout my week. I hope it’s one that sticks with my kids.

We talk at the table.

We talk about our days, the books we’re reading, the music we’re listening to, the things that made us laugh, the food in front of us. We talk. We take turns. We’re modeling conversation skills and building our children’s verbal and memory skills.

It’s so fun to see what my son wants to share with his dad from his day. Often the parts that stood out to me are not the ones he chooses to share. I’m reminded that he’s his own person, and he gives me the chance to see his POV. I do the same for him.

We keep a stack of library books at the table.

We check out about 20 books a week from the library. If my husband is able to join us for dinner, he reads the page closest to him, and I read the one closest to me. Otherwise, the attending adult does all the reading. The catch is that we only read if our 4-year-old is actively eating.

We aim to read through three books a meal at lunch and dinner. If the story is good enough, he doesn’t care what’s on his plate, as long as we keep reading.

I love that there’s built-in reading time in our day. I never have to ask if we’ve read any books. Between lunch, dinner, and bedtime, we’re reading so much. I love that my son can now read some to us.

The result of all this that is dinner time is no short affair in our house. It’s at least an hour on most days. I consider the time investment in my family.


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