Teatime Tantrums

We've all read how important family mealtimes are, right? Families who sit at the table together eat more nutritious food, plus it gives parents and children a chance to talk about their day.

I have to admit that we're often guilty of eating in front of the TV, but is it any wonder when family mealtimes are such an enormous pain?

When the shout goes up that dinner is ready, you would perhaps expect hungry children to rush to the table, looking forward to their food. That is not what happens in our house.

The eight-year-old, Harry, doesn't want to tear himself away from the Wii. Joe, four, can't bear the idea of sitting at the table and will usually try any method to avoid it, including - but not limited to - making the 20 foot journey from lounge to dining room on his belly, commando-style.

Once they eventually make it to the table - and argue about where they're going to sit, why one of them has the other's glass/spoon/plate/whatever - they complain about the food.

Harry has become a fussy eater; if it's not pizza he's not really interested. Joe's much less fussy, but more easily distracted; mentioning pudding has been banned because once Joe registers the p word, no more main course will be eaten.

By this point my husband, who has invariably cooked the meal since he enjoys cooking and I do not, is starting to get annoyed. He's slaved over a hot stove - is a little enthusiasm, a little gratitude too much to ask?

But the kids are more interested in trying to convince us to let them watch TV while we eat to be thankful for what they are about to receive.

If they manage more than a couple of bites before the whole thing descends into shouting, tears and "I don't even LIKE pasta!" then we call it a success. It is, however, far from the relaxing and civilized scene of my imagination.

I know it's not just us; friends assure me that teatime is prime meltdown time. I suppose it makes sense - children are likely to be tired and hungry (sometimes so hungry that they're too irritable to eat: a nightmare combination that we call 'hangry') and often parents' nerves are also starting to fray.

Mum of three, Wendy, says teatime is by far the worst part of her day: "The toddler is grumpy, the kids' come home from school tired, and after-school activities, homework, and meals all need to be fitted into a tiny amount of time." Is it any wonder something has to give?

Because she strikes me as someone who has it all under control, I asked Housewife Confidential blogger and mum of three Kat Molesworth for some tips to prevent the dinnertime debacle.

"Keeping supper to a regular time is key for avoiding the boiling point which will end with tears all round. Keep an eye on the clock and make sure you start cooking / preparing supper with breathing space in the timeline.

"I always have a couple of quick meals like frozen soup on standby in case things look like they are going wonky and I need to get food on the table quickly.


Consistency is your friend; think about what you want meal times to be like and stick to those rules.


"If you don't want toys at the table, people walking around or electrical gadgets make sure this rule applies to every meal and include yourself.

"Food can often become an unnecessary point of disagreement. The rule in our house is that we try everything on the plate but no one has to eat every piece or clear their plate.

"We encourage the children to stop eating when they feel full but everyone stays at the table until we've all finished. Sometimes a child who flat out refuses to eat their food will come around given some time to sit and chat."

Kat's tips are wonderful, but it finally occurred to me to ask my children what would make it better for them.

Harry said he'd like us to talk about things that we're all interested in. We do try to do this anyway - when things are calm enough - but he would like us to have a selection of topics that we can take it in turns to choose from. Done.

Joe suggested listening to music may help, so we're going to try that too. Here's hoping we can knock the mealtime meltdowns on the head once and for all...