For your entertainment tonight, we are featuring a new show called, “Mom, He Kicked My Leg Under the Table,” followed by a re-showing of the classic, “This Food Stinks!”  Enjoy, and watch out for flying food, spilled drinks, and whining children.  Family dinners are wonderful ways to gather together, share details about your day, and relax. In theory. In practice, they are often chaotic, stressful, and loud.  How can you have a drama-free dinner with children at the table?  We’ll help you turn those theoretical dinners into everyday events!

Start young.  Begin having family meals as soon as your child can eat.  He can have his rice cereal and pureed carrots while you have your dinner.  It doesn’t matter what you eat, but that you have a regular routine that he can get used to.  It will be an expected part of the day, and hopefully one that is looked forward to by all.

Try it, you might like it.  You can also start modeling good behaviors when your child is still in his high chair.  Pleases and thank yous are always nice, but you can also institute a “try two bites” rule.  A lot of dinner table drama comes with the food selection; if you dare serve green veggies, your children may object. The two bites rule requires everyone at the table to take at least two bites of each food (you could make it a one-, three-, or four-bite rule). Practice this rule consistently and make it an ingrained habit. As children get older, you may have to prompt them, but you will have fewer full-out battles on your hands.  They will also be used to eating their spinach!

Enlist your helpers. Children can take ownership of dinner by helping.  If they are old enough, have them help you gather the ingredients for the salad or get out the silverware and put forks on the table (and plates if you trust them – or they’re plastic).  If you have more than one child, give each a job. You can change this every night or rotate each week. It can be as formal, or not, as you like.

Have regular snack and dinner times.  Children are much more likely to misbehave when they are tired or hungry.  When they are both, they can be impossible!  Make snacks part of the routine; perhaps children could have a snack when they get home from school.  It is also helpful if dinner is usually around the same time. Life doesn’t always cooperate, but if you can get into a regular routine, it helps keep the drama down.

Eat until sated.  Don’t push your child to eat more than he needs. Children usually have a pretty good food o’meter internally, and they stop eating when they’re full.  Other times, they stop eating because they’re not hungry for the veggies and chicken you made but the brownies in the cupboard. In this case, you can do a few things: skip dessert altogether so he has no options, serve a healthy dessert like fruit that offers nutrients, or push dessert until later. If he’s hungry in the meantime, he will eat his dinner.

Talk.  Kids tend to get a little antsy if they are not engaged, so engage away.  Use this time to talk about your day and ask your kids questions about theirs.  See who they played with at recess or what they did in math class. Ask about their friends or their homework. It doesn’t really matter; just keep the conversation going. Besides being a good bonding technique, it can keep your children calm until dinner is over.  You could do your part by asking questions and bringing one silly knock-knock joke to the table each day.

You do not have to have a full sit-down dinner every night; some families just do not operate on that schedule.  But do try to schedule a few family dinners per week; it benefits the whole family.

Jan Kremer is an event planning consultant with over 10 years of experience.  As a blog contributor at, she shares her parenting tips, ideas for homemade gift baskets for kids, and baby shower planning advice.

photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography