Dinnertime—It’s Not for Sissies

Why dinnertime is the most stressful meal of the day



Now that they share a bedroom, Davis and Hudson come trudging/stomping down the hall together every morning. Most times the first corporate question is whether they can watch cartoons. If denied that delicacy, they shuffle on to the playroom. But Hudson is never in there more than a few minutes before demanding, “My dinner ready?” We remind him the imminent meal is breakfast. Julia and I are both very relieved that’s the case.

Dinnertime is my least favorite time of the day. And I really like to eat. I like food and big hearty meals in a gluttonous kind of way. But dinnertime at our house is the apex of our chaos, a microcosm of our family dynamic. Loud, messy, stressful… you get the idea. I guess right now no mealtime is really a fun time at our house, but dinnertime is to be feared. We try to make dinnertime a snippet of dedicated family time. We don’t have the television on; we all sit down together; and we roll Ella Marie into the mix in her highchair.

Dinnertime then becomes a task to be accomplished—let’s get these kids fed, cleaned up, and on to the next thing. All three of our crazies are good eaters, but inevitably we have to barter and bribe someone to eat more of the evening’s undesirable (or least desirable) item. We spend half our mealtime expediting food into mouths not our own and the other half failing at any semblance of family conversation. “How was school today?” I already know the answer. “Good.” Always.

But if I ask Julia something about her day, the peanut gallery chatter begins in earnest. It seems the goal is to interrupt any attempt at legitimate conversation with more pressing issues like, why is Catwoman bad and have you ever seen a coyote-clown-man playing baseball? (Answers: She just is and, no, only football.) Julia and I have learned that we must discuss anything of import post-dinner.

And then there’s the cleanup. Ella Marie is a disaster unto herself as she now insists upon feeding herself: One for my mouth; one for my lap; one for the floor. Once we’ve taken care of Ella Marie and her two-foot radius of destruction, there are still the plates and pots and pans.

Considering all those elements, often our best family dinnertime experiences are those spent outside of the comfort of our own home. Our options are somewhat limited when it comes to taking our dinnertime circus on the road. Or at least we are inclined to limit our options in order not to intrude on the dinner hour of those uninterested in spending their dinner hour alongside our melee.

Unless we have my or Julia’s parents in town and the adults out-number the kids, we opt for locations that show their kid-friendly stripes in the form of activity—either brain or physical activity. Crayons are always a great start for entertaining/distracting hungry little ones who have a tough time remembering that the food must be ordered and doesn’t magically appear when we sit down. Locales like Austin Terrier with both crayons and dog-friendly outdoor seating and Madam Mam’s and its giant fish tank are great places for kid-sized brain activity.

Restaurants that incorporate physical activity are an even bigger draw for us and our rowdiness. Going to a restaurant with a playground is like going on a picnic without having to pack your own food. The playgrounds at places like Phil’s Icehouse, Waterloo 360, Freddie’s Place, and Hat Creek Burger Co. make for an all-out diversion of kiddo energy pre- and post-meal. Our littles get out some of that endless energy and work up an appetite all at once. Sometimes they welcome the chance just to sit down and take a break from the action. This often makes for an even better clean plate showing with less parental chiding.

But if that chiding and nagging is still necessary, a return to the restaurant playground serves as a very attractive carrot (even better than dessert) that can be dangled in front of little faces. And when our boys meet their intake quota and reenter the playground fracas, us parents, adult beverage in hand, take in a moment of relative peace while the grackles clean up.

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