Food and drinks all over the floor. Kids’ faces (and bodies and clothes) are a mess. Cups, bowls and spoons strewn everywhere. At least two of them are fighting. Only one of them actually ate something. Mom and Dad just want dinner to be over with… Are you having meal times like these?

I know that part of having kids is embracing the mess, the noise and the chaos. Sometimes it’s just going to be crazy. But I believe that we are responsible as parents to train up our children and discipline them in love, and part of that is to teach them to be respectful and obedient at meal times.

My desire is to truly enjoy the time that we spend at the table together. Why bother? I believe our days and weeks were designed to have peaceful rest periods for a reason – because our human bodies really need to slow down and rest! It’s part of a normal, healthy day.

I also want to encourage slower eating and better chewing so we have the best chance at digesting the nutrients in our food. And let’s not forget the bonding. I’m hoping that a more peaceful atmosphere will encourage quality conversation with my kids and create lasting memories.

There are plenty of other reasons you might desire a more peaceful meal time, those are just a few that come to mind for my family. Maybe you’re thinking, that’s all well and good, but how do I actually take steps toward a more enjoyable meal time?


Some practical steps:

  1. Meal Plan. I know you’ve heard this one from me before, but it helps your sanity to plan ahead, especially if you’re serving as the cook, the waitress, the peacekeeper and the cleanup crew all rolled into one. Start strong by having a plan for the meal.

  2. Try to get comfortable. Get the baby a high chair that she won’t climb out of. Make sure there’s room for everyone at the table and plenty of sturdy chairs (so kids don’t tip them and fall off). Assign seats if free seating creates a problem (“No, I want to sit next to Dad!”).

  3. Get them involved in making the meal. This one is helpful for older kids or picky kids especially (though toddlers love cooking, too!). Getting them interested in what’s happening in the kitchen might have a positive effect on what happens at the dinner table. You can also ask for their input when meal planning.

  4. Don’t call them to dinner before it’s ready. In my experience, hungry children at the table with no food creates chaos. Prepare each plate in the kitchen ahead of time (this is ideal for young kids) or set everything out family style and then call everyone in (if your kids are old enough to serve themselves without making a mess).

  5. Expect messes. We know it’s going to happen, so why do we act so surprised when our kids get messy? Put a mat beneath the high chair, bring a few towels to the table, give the young ones proper cups and utensils, and try not to overreact when they spill.

  6. Patiently teach them a bit of etiquette. I’m not saying you should expect a table full of little Emily Posts, but if you expect them to act a certain way at the table, teach them to do so with love and patience.

  7. Eat slowly. This one is hardest for me. If the task of eating slowly seems impossible, start by helping the kids to eat first, and then tackling your own meal (instead of shoveling down your food first so you can help them). Chewing slowly and completely is best for digestion, so try to give everyone a chance to do so.

  8. Engage in open-ended conversation. We all know “How was your day?” doesn’t typically get the best answers at the dinner table. Try asking more specific questions. You can also take advantage of mealtime devotionals or conversation starters.

  9. Teach them to help clean up. Kids are more than able to help clean up their messes (even if they don’t do it perfectly). Give them their own napkins to wipe spills and show them how to do the dishes, or at least get them to the sink.

  10. Try again. Not all mealtimes will be perfectly peaceful ones (and that is OK), but keep at it! Try one small change at first and give it time to settle before tackling a new one. Let it be a process and enjoy any small step toward peace at the dinner table. Most importantly, cherish the time spent with your family no matter how peaceful the meal turns out to be.


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