DINNER. And how I got my kids to eat it.

If you know the Nardini’s personally, then you know we are foodies. I’m pretty sure when my husband wakes up, the first thing he asks is, “What’s for dinner?” And on Saturday morning, the first thing he’s downstairs doing is planning Sunday dinner. Look at all his dude group texts and family group texts and I’d put money on most of the photos being pictures of whatever food their eating or text messages asking everyone what’s on their menu today. I appreciate having a husband who can eat because that means I have a husband who can cook. And that’s #winning.

But food and toddlers? That’s a whole different story! There are two things in raising my kids that I have been batsh*t steadfast about. Like no compromises, not willing to cave, this WILL happen no matter what: sleep and food. (Sleep is for a different post a different day.)

I remember being pregnant with Luca and making Mike promise me that when our kids were old enough, we would always eat dinner together as a family. When I was little, my family did this as much as possible and I know Mike’s family was the same way. I wanted our family to grow up like this. [No qualms against families who don’t or didn’t do this…to each his own and I respect every mama’s choice and circumstances in lifestyle and habits!] We have our fair share of food stories and food battles, but I’m pretty happy with the fact that we stayed true to that wish and eat dinner together as a family every night, and most meals on weekends and stay-at-home days too! And not only do we eat together, but the kids eat the same thing as us. (I was also steadfast at never wanting to have to prepare two dinners: one for the parents and one for the kids.) So what’s my secret? Rules. Rules for my kids AND rules for my husband and I.

Dinner Rules for the Kids

  1. You eat what I cook. No asking for something different. If you don’t like it? Tough luck, I guess you won’t have dinner tonight. (This has happened, and OF COURSE I don’t send my children to bed hungry. Instead, I make sure I clearly separate dinner from whatever food they eat later that night and I don’t call it dinner.)
  2. No dinner means no dessert. The bruises are heavily motivated by sweets (foodies!), so the mere mention of no dessert usually does the trick. The oldest bruise has gotten smarter and fresher, and even started to say “I don’t even want dessert tonight Mommy.” (LIES!) But I just say ok no problem, and make him a plate and put it to the side for later. Every. single. time. he comes back an hour later saying he’s hungry and we pull that plate out and say “Ok, here’s dinner!”
  3. The one bite rule. This is how we’ve avoided picky eaters (for the most part). For every new food we have, or every food item on their plate, there is a one bite rule. 75% of the time they take one bite and realize they like it. And if they don’t, well there’s always something else on their plate, which brings me to my next rule.
  4. We always serve at least one thing we know they like. The pediatrician told me this once a while back and for whatever reason it stuck and it works. There are plenty of meals where we have something they don’t like. But I always make sure it’s not the only thing we’re having. If they don’t like the salmon, I make sure the sides are something they like. Or if they don’t like any of the items at all, a bowl of diced strawberries accompanies dinner too.
  5. Not eating? Fine I won’t force you, but you do have to sit with us. Coming to the dinner table is a rule. And even if you’re going to throw a fit or not eat or complain, your bottom will still sit there. Coming to dinner is an expectation, not an invitation.
  6. We keep a predictable line up, changing things up every once in a while to introduce new things. I found that if I change it up too much or too frequently, they started to get anxious about dinner. So instead, every Tuesday is taco Tuesday, and every Friday is pizza Friday. We have our usual chicken nights, and pork nights, and spaghetti and meatball nights too. I’ve found that being predictable means they’re excited for dinner.

Dinner Rules for the Parents

  1. Follow all the same rules as the dinner rules for the kids. LOL, but seriously! How many times have you told your kid not to do or say something and they say, “But you do it Mommy!” I got smarter a while back and realized that if I follow the rules, then there’s no opportunity for them to say things like that. So Mike and I follow all the same rules. And yes, that means sometimes we eat dino nugs and french fries for dinner too (and shhhh! we actually enjoy it!).
  2. Keep emotions out of it. I try to take an apathetic approach to food or dinner battles. I’ve found little success actually fighting the fight. Instead, I ignore or tell them no problem, which at first came unexpectedly (I think Luca is always ready for a fight!). Now, I’ve realized they come around eventually so I don’t waste my energy.
  3. Allow cheat days because no one’s perfect. So YES we have had meals where the kids had one thing and the parents had another – sushi nights are a prime example. We’ve also had meals where we don’t eat at the table. Heck, every parent knows sometimes lunch in front of the TV is a guaranteed quiet five minutes and sometimes that’s just what we need. And usually breakfast during the week is at the island! So, I grant myself grace whenever I need it and I don’t feel bad about it.

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