The Family Dinner

December 12, 2013

Dinnertime is a wonderful time to come together as a family. Yet I am sure many families would report the hours between 5 and 8pm as being the most stressful of the day. Everyone is hungry and grumpy, dinner has to be made, last minute tasks need to be completed before the day is over and the new one begins.


In an ideal world, our dinner routine would go like this:

Dinner prep is already done because I did it at naptime. I pop something in the oven and read books with Mazen while it cooks. Matt comes home and we all sit down at the table just in time for us all to get hungry – at 6pm. Everyone cleans their plates. Bath time follows.

On the rare occasion, the above actually does happen. Thank you crockpot and rice cooker!

I thought I would share how our family dinners really go down…an honest, real day:

5:00 pm

Mazen begins to whine at my feet, a sure sign he is ready for dinner. When I ask him if he is hungry, he does the sign for “more,” which means food. Luckily I am usually armed with leftovers from the day before or prepped food in the fridge so I can have Mazen’s meal ready in just a few minutes. Matt and I don’t want to eat at 5pm but Mazen does, so we try to split his in half. We call this First Dinner because he often has more with us at the table for Second Dinner. Sometimes he eats more with us and sometimes he doesn’t.

I give him tomatoes (his favorite), peas in parmesan cheese and butter (he eats some), triangles of polenta (he doesn’t touch them), a few leftover noodles (also not touched) and a few grape slices (half are consumed). I am holding off for salmon as his main protein at Second Dinner because I know he loves it.

Five minutes into his dinner he does the sign for “all done” and seems disinterested, so I get him back down. (I will say that half the time he eats a full dinner at this hour, so I never know what to expect!) 


Playing resumes


A little later Matt comes home and we take turns cooking


We’re having salmon, polenta and salads. I have the salads and polenta ready to go but the fish needs to be cooked.


Foodblog-1390 Foodblog-1387

6:30 pm

Dinner is finally on the table!


And it’s a good one.


We bring Mazen’s high chair into the dining room


As I suspect, he loves the salmon and eats plenty. The rest of his meal is pretty much left untouched.


One his salmon is gone he does the sign for “all done” again and is off.


A few minutes later, he is crying in the other room for us to play with him.


The rest of dinner we are up and down between bites.



The hardest part of feeding a baby has been the unpredictably. Some might accuse us of making parenting mistakes in this post, but other nights we do the same things and the night goes perfectly.

We have found that it’s best for us (the parents) to eat early (like 6:00) or late after Mazen is in bed. This 6:30-7 time is the worst time to eat, but sometimes I just can’t have dinner on the table early enough! The divide is between a family dinner or an after-bedtime dinner. We do both depending on our meal, but our dinner routine could certainly use a little organization. I shoot for 6pm, but a lot of nights 6 comes and goes and we’re not quite ready to eat.

Mazen had a snack before bed – more grapes and some cheese. If I’ve learned anything in 14 months it’s that flexibility rules the roost.

What have you guys done to make dinnertime a happy time for all?

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{ 110 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Karli Tedeschi December 12, 2013 at 9:13 am

Thanks for such an honest look at dinner prep. It’s refreshing to know we’re not the only ones eating late! My boys are in preschool so eating late means later to bed, which can be a problem. On a good week, I do lots of prep on the weekend for weeknight dinners and during the week I use my crockpot. Most weeks however, we have 1 or 2 more involved dinners and the remaining dinners are leftovers or simple dinners like grilled cheese and soup. Thursday is always a leftover day and Friday is always movie night with homemade pizza. Getting the kids involved with helping has made dinner prep more fun and I love seeing their interest in cooking grow :)


2 Tonya December 12, 2013 at 9:15 am

You are going to get a ton of opinions about how to do this,what works best, what you’re doing wrong, etc (because we’re all experts on everything, remember! :-) ) but the truth is, what you described sounds absolutely normal. That’s just how it goes with a toddler. The ups and downs between bites; food feeling half digested! LOL Then add another baby to the mix! Or another! You won’t eat a decent meal again until they’re 10. MAYBE!! :-)


3 Aaryn December 12, 2013 at 9:33 am

Feeding a family is hard work and what works for one family might be different from what works for another. My kids are older, 5 and 7, and our dinnertime routine has changed over the years. When we just had one kiddo, he would eat at 5 and my husband and I would eat together around 7, after my husband got home from work and the baby was in bed (we had a firm 7 pm bedtime for the kids until just recently). Once I had two, I ate with my boys around 5 and my husband ate when he got home from work. I still eat dinner with my boys, but now dinner is around 5:30 or even 6 and my husband still eats by himself most nights! (We do eat breakfast together daily and all weekend meals.) Of course, timing changes depending on the kids’ evening activities — do we need to run off to soccer or Cub Scouts? Move dinner earlier. One thing that remains the same is that I still have to do all the prep work earlier in the day. After school is a very busy time for us, and I just can’t help kids practice instruments and do homework while making dinner. Keep up the good work — I think the most important thing is that you’re putting healthy meals on the table!


4 Sarah November 7, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Hi Aaryn,
I’m a food reporter with the Wall Street Journal. I’m looking to talk to parents that do family breakfast (at least some weekdays) as opposed to or in addition to family dinner. If that sounds like you I’d love to chat. My e-mail is sarah.nassauer(at)wsj(dot)com. Thanks!


5 Natasha December 12, 2013 at 9:36 am

Dinner time is tough. We do a version of what you do except I have a teenager, preteen, and toddler. My preteen is ready to eat a meal when he gets home from school around 4:00 so I give him a salad, raw veggies with hummus, or some leftovers from previous dinner while he waits for me to cook. We then eat a very early dinner (5:00 or 5:30) except for my teenager who doesn’t get home from gymnastics every night until 9pm. Just before 9:00 I put my toddler to bed and then my teenager eats her 1st dinner when she gets home at 9:00 and my preteen is ready to eat all over again with her.

Entertaining a toddler while cooking is the hardest part plus having the older kids help in the kitchen. I love my kids to “help” but not when I have been at the office all day and everyone is starving and cranky. So I try to include them in the process more on the weekends and on weekdays they set the table, pour drinks, etc.

I think everyone just has to find what works, and for us that is constantly evolving. We can have one dinner schedule down and then lacrosse season starts and my son gets home later and that throws everything off.


6 Erin December 12, 2013 at 9:37 am

My baby is the same age and we have this issue as well. I typically either make her a late snack (around 4) and try and eat by 6:30. She’s in bed by 7:30. It’s tough, I hate eating at 8:00 after she’s in bed but sometimes that’s how it goes…


7 Anna December 12, 2013 at 9:42 am

We have 2 kids – ages 2 1/2 and 1 – we got so tired of multiple meals, hurried eating, and cold dinners that we have adult dinner after kids are in bed around 730/8. We sit down while they are eating breakfast and dinner so I don’t feel a loss of a “family dinner”. The kids eat leftovers from the night before or snacks (hummus, pretzels, cheese, olives, etc). I know when they are older we will resume family meals but for now, I enjoy eating without 7+ interruptions.


8 Katie @ Peace Love & Oats December 12, 2013 at 9:42 am

Your dinner looks delicious even if it was interrupted!


9 Cindy December 12, 2013 at 9:44 am

You are doing a great job. You are a super mom! The above dinner looks delicious. Your salmon looks really yummy. I’m so jealous of Mazen. :) Keep doing what you’re doing. You definitely have the right mindset here. Can’t wait to see your next post!


10 Sarah December 12, 2013 at 9:46 am

I’d like to preface this by I don’t have kids and don’t know what I’m talking about. A question, when M cries in another room (where you can still see him) after you let him down, why can’t you just keep eating dinner and let him comfort himself?
Again no criticism of you meant, I only have a dog to take care off….


11 KathEats December 12, 2013 at 10:47 am

He’ll eventually just cry on my lap but that is a good recommendation :)


12 Cristal December 12, 2013 at 12:47 pm

I have a 2 1/2 year old and we have always sat as a family until our dinners are done. We didn’t put her in the living room and try to play/eat at the same time. You definately have to do what works for your family. We decided to instill in her very early that dinner time is for the whole family and even if you are done eating you can still sit at the table and have a conversation. I think this has helped in a public setting as well. She will sit at the table at a restaurant and not want to get down or throw a fit because she is done eating.


13 Tiffany December 12, 2013 at 4:33 pm

All kids are different. I have 3 sweet kids and they each have their own personalities no matter how similarly we raise them. My kids are 9,7 and 2. My (just turned 2) 2 year old is too busy to sit at the table long after he is done eating although he is my most laid back and easiest child. My oldest, who is a girl, sat at the table beautifully. No doubt because I was a better parent then- not at all :) Maybe because of the boy/girl difference? Maybe the 1st/3rd child? Just wired differently. Like you said- you do what works for your family. I think it was said best, that flexibility rules the roost!! Keeps life fun!!


14 Laura December 12, 2013 at 11:05 am

LOL I love the comment about only having a dog to take care of!!! I’m in the same boat with just a dog to care for :)


15 Kelly December 12, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Me too. :)


16 Andrea December 12, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Me three :) And I let him do whatever he wants! lol


17 Lea December 12, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Lol, you don’t really want to keep eating dinner while your only child is crying in the next room. Another option is to maybe give him something to amuse himself in his highchair while the parents continue to eat–he might last a little longer (not much!) and become accustomed to the concept of sitting all together at family dinner time.

Eating habits come and go in phases. Sometimes it’s possible to get your kid in sync with dinner hour by timing a snack in the afternoon, but then something changes and you need to adapt. And then later, you have to train them to wait until everybody else has had a chance to be served before they dump the remaining contents of the serving dish onto their plate…


18 Cristal December 13, 2013 at 8:40 am

I agree with you, Lea.


19 Brittany (Healthy Slice of Life) December 12, 2013 at 9:50 am

I love the idea of family dinners, but it isn’t in the cards for us right now. David rarely gets home before 7 or 8 and Hailey goes to bed at 7. So she eats dinner at 6:00 and I sit with her, then David and I eat once she’s down and he is home.

When the girls are older I plan on making it more structured, but it works for us for now!

Love the behind the scenes peek :)


20 Diana @ frontyardfoodie December 12, 2013 at 9:50 am

You know, the best thing about parenthood is how it flows in seasons. You’re in that toddler stage where they are developing fast and it’s hard to get things done. The next stage may be completely different and things will just click into place. I’m in the next stage of parenthood. I have two boys aged 3 and 1 1/2, and dinner time is a lot easier now than when one little. Our oldest has been well trained to sit at the table all of dinner and our younger (about mazen’s age) stays in his highchair simply because everyone else is at the table. The second child tends to want to go with the flow. You’re doing an awesome job!


21 Sabrina @ Living, Learning, Eating December 12, 2013 at 9:57 am

He’s growing so fast, what a cutie pie! It’s great to see that he’s doing so well and you guys are adapting to this (huge!) lifestyle change so smoothly. Of course it won’t always be perfect, but it looks to me like you’re doing something right!
Sabrina @ Living, Learning, Eating


22 Areej December 12, 2013 at 10:06 am

We both work full time so we get home anywhere from 6.30 – 7.00 pm and usually the babysitter is prepping dinner for our son by this time. He eats anywhere from 7-7.30 so we usually don’t have dinner together. I guess that is how dinner works best for us. We usually eat once he is in bed which at the lastest is 9pm. For Italy, that is a normal dinner time. On weekends we have breakfast and lunch together, but dinner works best if baby eats before we do.


23 Jamie @ A Healthy J.D. December 12, 2013 at 10:13 am

This is a great post! We are kinda struggling with this concept of family dinner as well. Right now my husband picks up our 12 month old, Zachary, from daycare and is home by 6:15, he immediately wants and needs food so he starts feeding him an assortment of leftovers. I get home around 6:30-6:45 and try to start cooking our dinner (lately this has been much more successful thanks to you for introducing me to Cook Smarts, prior to that we found ourselves grumpily making frozen prepackaged food after the baby goes to bed). After Z’s dinner my husband or I bathe him while the other finishes up cooking or prepping our dinner. We then play with Z a little bit more until his bedtime which is between 7:45-8:15. We finally sit down and eat our dinner by 8-8:30. I really wish we could all sit down and eat together but as working parents who don’t get home until after 6 I don’t think it will happen until Z is older. It’s not ideal but it works for us for now.


24 Carolyn December 12, 2013 at 10:31 am

We don’t get home from work/daycare until close to 5:45 and my son needs to eat almost right away because he’ll be in bed by 7:30. We almost never eat with him on the weekdays. usually we eat after he’s in bed. My husband works shift work so he’s also rarely there so I don’t have someone to help a lot of the time, so there’s leftovers, grilled cheese with spinach, quesadillas, eggs, etc. Whatever is fast and he’s most likely to eat. It’s not ideal, but I doubt it will scar him for life.


25 [email protected] December 12, 2013 at 10:33 am

Our meals aren’t challenging yet as we dont have kids, so we take advantage of gym after work and then dinner together around 7. It works well!


26 Erika December 12, 2013 at 10:34 am

My husband doesn’t get home until 6:30 or after (which is pretty much our 17-month old’s bedtime), so I make a separate dinner for our son to eat around 5:30/6 when I get home from work. He eats a snack at daycare around 4, so dinner is kind of hit-and-miss with how much he eats. It would be great if we could do a family dinner, but the timing just doesn’t work out for us right now. Hopefully when our son gets a little older!


27 Stephanie December 12, 2013 at 10:35 am

Kath, thanks for the great post. The two dinners is exactly what we do with our almost-18-month-old. I just can’t get dinner on the table early enough for him! You’re right – it’s all about flexibility!


28 Emma December 12, 2013 at 10:36 am

I always wonder what time other people eat! I grew up on a farm, and our meals there were habitually later, especially dinner in summer, a reflection of the need to grab the daylight hours to work in. The later it got dark, the later we’d eat!

Now I usually get home from work around 6, and I want to sit down, talk to my husband, catch up on social media and relax, so I usually don’t start dinner till 7 and we usually end up eating around 8. (We don’t have kids.)


29 Lauren @ Lettuce Eat Cake December 12, 2013 at 10:44 am

Very interesting. I worry about this because, unfortunately, my hubby works until 7 or 8 p.m. most nights. I think Mizfit has mentioned her family shoots for a “family dinner” breakfast instead of dinner because it works better for their schedule, which I think is a great idea. It’s lovely to see families making an effort to preserve the family dinner. I think it’s so crucial for kids to have that guaranteed facetime with parents every day.


30 Holly December 12, 2013 at 10:45 am

We struggle with dinner as I rush to get to daycare for pickup by 6 pm and home by 6:15. Our 2 year old eats a large snack when we get home as I know he’s starving and doesn’t eat a lot of daycare lunches.

We have simplified dinners to be those ready in under 30 mins and we try to eat together at the table at 6:45(when my husband gets home from work). Not always feasible, but we try!

In order to eat our dinner after my son is quickly finished, he is allowed 2 books to read while we finish our plates (after a quick wipe down of his area of the table). It works well for us and stopped his whining to have us play with him.


31 Janet December 12, 2013 at 10:49 am

While our son was your son’s age (before 2, mostly), we did the after bedtime dinner. I would make something for him to eat while one of us cooked. One of us would put him to bed (usually me) while the other one finishes dinner. Bedtime is done, dinner is served. Now that our son is older (just turned 3), dinner is becoming more organized, though he is a LOT pickier now! We just stay flexible…


32 Stephanie December 12, 2013 at 10:52 am

Kath, I think you are doing all the right things. Babies just can’t be expected to be on a schedule. They get hungry when they get hungry and want to eat what they want to eat. I honestly believe in relying on them to self regulate (within reasonable options for food) and things should work themselves out. My 20 month old daughter gets hungry before dinner is ready most nights and we try to give her a light snack, but sometimes that snack makes her no longer hungry at dinnertime. Whoops. I think you are doing a fine job (but maybe just because it mirrors what I do with my daughter as well). :)


33 Sarah December 12, 2013 at 11:16 am

With our oldest was a baby we always planned a relaxing dinner after she went to bed. Family dinner time will come later but when babies are hungry they need to eat…!!


34 Danielle December 12, 2013 at 11:22 am

I have an 8 month old and a 7 year old. My husband, daughter, and I always eat dinner together… every single night. The baby sometimes goes to bed before dinner. He almost always eats before we do and then I will put him in his highchair or on my lap sometimes for little bits of what he can have off my plate. This is usually when he gets more textured foods. Then I will let him down to play. He usually prefers to be at the table though.


35 Sars December 12, 2013 at 11:56 am

Hmmm I would think if you gave him more of the food he likes, he would sit and keep eating with you longer. Why give him food again that he didn’t touch just an hour before? Also, I think this is basically like most parents, who do have a period of time where meal times are juggling baby and up and down. Many times, popping in a Baby Einstein video or putting on Sesame Street for 1/2 hour will give you all the downtime you are looking for. Maybe move the dining table back into the diningroom and bring the TV up to the livingroom to make things a bit more convenient for the family.


36 Jesse December 12, 2013 at 12:00 pm

we totally struggle with this too! i don’t usually walk in the door from work till close to 630pm, so my son usually has a snack around 6 and then eats with us at 630/645. but you’re right,it’s totally unpredictable what he will eat and how he will behave. last night he sat and ate nicely for 15 minutes and was a lovely dinner companion. the night before, would not sit with us or have a bite. then was hungry right before bed. flexibility is key!


37 Allison December 12, 2013 at 12:14 pm

It really never gets easier. I have a 13 and 10 yo and they both have activities in the evening. It is really important to me to eat dinner together so dinner time just moves all around depending on their activities. The above mentioned family breakfast isn’t an option because middle school and elementary school start at different times. My daughter is still asleep when my son leaves for school. I have come to love the crock-pot. I also do a lot of prep if dinner will be later so that we can eat as soon as they (or one of them) walks in the door.


38 Angela @ Happy Fit Mama December 12, 2013 at 12:22 pm

My twins are 3 1/2. It’s become easier for us to eat together as a family most nights of the week as the kids get older. But 5-7:30 is still crazy time. We get home from work/school, make dinner, eat around 6, baths and bedtime in a very short amount of time. I’m sure this will change multiple times throughout the next 15 years with sports, after school activities and general life gets busier. I don’t think there is a perfect solution. Just one that works for the time being because like you said, every day is different.


39 Kelley December 12, 2013 at 12:30 pm

This is so interesting and refreshing to read. It’s much the same in my house. My 18mo. old has a very unpredictable appetite as well. I work out of the house, so we all get home at 6p the earliest, so there’s that mad scramble to cook/prepare dinner, eat, bathe and read before a 7:30p bedtime. I feel bad that so many of my family meals are rushed, but I don’t really know how to fix it!

They say it’s good to start a routine sitting down at the table and eating with baby… but I also find it more relaxing to eat after she’s in bed, so often she eats by herself with me sitting next to her. You’ve got a great balance though, I think you’re doing everything right!


40 Jennifer G December 12, 2013 at 12:38 pm

My daughter is 18 months and I work full time. The crock-pot has become our new best friend! E is ready to eat by 5:15, any later and she is cranky-pants. I am a strong believer in family meals so we do our best to eat with her, sometimes she does want food sooner and we do the same..she eats leftovers or a fruit as an appetizer as we call it! We do try and encourage her to sit in her highchair till we are all done, sometimes with a bribe of a cookie or cheese..but its basically the same as you described! Toddlers are unpredictable and demanding. We once had breakfast on the kitchen floor because she refused to sit in her high chair (she just transitioned to a new room that sits at a little table/chair and i think that caused some high-chair woes), so you gotta roll with the punches for sure!!


41 Katherine December 12, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Have you ever read the blog Dinner: a Love Story? The have a really wonderful, refreshing take on family dinner. Especially the toddle years. They also have a cookbook that talks even more about the toddler years and how to make family dinner happen in a no pressure sort of way. It’s one of my very favorite cookbooks!


42 KathEats December 12, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Cool, no, but I’ll check it out


43 Megan December 12, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Just got turned on to this blog and I love it so far. Thinking of checking out the cookbook, too!


44 Caitlin December 12, 2013 at 12:56 pm

My family always grew up eating later because my dad has always been the type to work later than 5PM and we like to sit down together. My mom has always been a SAHM so luckily she was able to have dinner ready for us. I’m sure she used to deal with unpredictable kids suddenly being hungry all the time but I more so felt bad for her in terms of how freaking picky I was and all of us were…I feel like sometimes she was making 5 meals for 5 people because my dad and her also eat a bit differently (he isn’t as much a fan of the “healthy stuff”). Luckily it seems you’ve introduced Mazen to the same foods you/Matt like!


45 Tragic Sandwich December 12, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Baguette is three and a half and a bit, and we have JUST managed to start eating at the same time most nights. Our dinnertime is 7 p.m.


46 Mary December 12, 2013 at 1:07 pm

E eats dinner at around 5pm, then she’s in bed by 7. We eat dinner at around 8, but I have breakfast and lunch with her on the days she’s not in nursery and at home with me.


47 sarah December 12, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Dinnertime is happy for everyone in our family when the “baby” eats around 5pm off the kitchen floor, then my husband and I eat on the couch around 6. Last, and most important, the “baby” gets to sniff the floor and our laps to clean up crumbs. It’s just me, my husband and our jack russell at the moment. 😉

I think you’re doing a great job Kath! I think it must be more about the statement that family dinnertime is important and making an effort than it is about actually getting everyone to sit at that age.


48 KathEats December 12, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Haha cute


49 Kelly December 12, 2013 at 1:23 pm

This is great! I love seeing that I’m not the only one doing things this way. I have twins who are 4 1/2, but when they were M’s age, I gave them 2 dinners as well. They were ready to eat dinner early, but I also wanted to have family dinner and my husband doesn’t get home until 6:00. For a while, it was hard because I just felt like I was cooking and feeding everyone for hours! But the kids grow and change so quickly, you’re never doing exactly the same thing for very long.


50 Amelia December 12, 2013 at 1:28 pm

You definitely have to do what works for you and makes you feel good as parents. A friend of mine, with twin boys, always had a snack around 5:30 when the boys ate, then after they were put to bed at 7, her and her husband ate dinner. They were always accustomed to eating later anyways. But now that the boys are older (5yrs) , they eat as a family.
I’m sure it will all change in a couple weeks/months, as Mazen gets older. :)


51 Anna @ Fitness à la Anna December 12, 2013 at 1:52 pm

I do not have a child, so I cannot really provide any substantial feedback for this, but it seems like you are balancing the witching hour (I have heard that children get particularly ornery around dinner time), healthy eating and family time. Also, I love how you have integrated vacuuming as a playtime activity – double bonus!


52 Stacy K. December 12, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Thank you! I am so happy to see we are not the only ones with a some what chaotic routine. As a working mama it’s really hard to get dinner on the table by 6:30 unless it’s something super simple, leftovers or a crockpot meal. We definitely do family dinner at the table on Sundays and I’m trying to do one to two more days at the table with the three of us. It’s challenging because my husband doesn’t always get home before 7 and some nights when I’m trying to make a more involved dinner we end up eating after bedtime- which feels so late to me, but that’s usually 8:00.

I’d love an updated post on Mazens meals, this is a good glimpse, but I feel like I always get in a rut with G’s food and its good inspiration. He use to love peas, but has been refusing them lately so I will try the parmesan cheese and butter trick and see if he will eat more. For his dinner I usually resort to avocado, cheese, tomato and some type of grain.


53 KathEats December 12, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Ugh I always feel like I’m in a food rut too! Feeding my child has been the most stressful part of motherhood so far – worse than sleep deprivation!


54 Cristal December 13, 2013 at 8:44 am

For me too, Kath. Especially because my daughter has a milk protein allergy and is considered underweight. I have to really think about how to add calories to every meal and avoid any milk…


55 Heather December 13, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Same about food rut and feeding my son. If you did a post on it we could brainstorm in the comments. :)

Cristal, my son has always been small because he was a tiny preemie. Two things I add to his food to try to bulk it up – peanut/almond butter or coconut oil from Trader Joe’s. I have no idea if it helps, but it makes me feel better giving him some extra calories or fat.


56 Connie December 18, 2013 at 7:19 am

Kath, I don’t understand why you’re not using that meal planning service you advertised on your blog a few weeks ago? You said you didn’t feel that you needed it right now, but based on this post, I’d say it’s exactly what you need to add a little peace to your witching hour!

Also, do you have a crock pot? My crock pot is my best friend. I get up half an hour before my children in the morning to have a coffee and prep a meal in the crock pot, and it saves my life when 5:30 rolls around.

That photo of Mazen on the living-room floor… Where are the toys? Does he have his own little shelf of books and play things in that room? If you don’t have one already, why don’t you keep a big basket of toys for him upstairs so that, when you put him down while you’re eating, he has something to keep him occupied?


57 KathEats December 18, 2013 at 8:28 am

I do need to utilize cook smarts. Doing a plan next week.

And he has a hige bin of toys that he was boycotting.


58 Connie December 19, 2013 at 6:40 am

Boycotting! Lol. Okay, so try giving him your wallet. That kept my kids occupied for at least half an hour at a time! :-)


59 victoria December 12, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Eventually you may want to consider having M stay with you and your husband even after he is done. Not only will he continue to graze and you’ll get some more nutrition in him, it’ll teach him that just because he is done, doesn’t mean he is free to roam. You’ll appreciate that when he gets older and it’s not possible for him to go play when he’s done, such as in restaurants, other people’s houses, etc.
If you’re afraid he’ll make a mess with his food while you two are finishing up, just remove the food from his tray but keep him at the table with you guys.

With two boys myself, I understand the yearning for a quiet, peaceful dinner but trust me, you’ll appreciate teaching your kids how to sit nicely at a table while the adults finish. I have other friends who let their kids leave as soon as they’re done, and these friends never get to go to restaurants because as soon as the kids are “done” they expect to be able to get down and run around the place. Just something to keep in mind.


60 Amanda December 12, 2013 at 2:09 pm

This all seems pretty normal to me and I have a 13 mts old. Some days she’s hungrier than others and on those days she’ll eat anything I give her.


61 ErikaMC December 12, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Our son is 2. If he ever says he is hungry before supper is ready I usually just give him some milk and maybe some crackers – more like a snack than a supper. Everybody sits down together 6-6:30 to eat. One rule we have is that everybody is at the table until everybody is done. There is a rare night here and there that this doesn’t work out but that’s where flexibility comes in.


62 Karissa December 12, 2013 at 2:42 pm

This was a wonderful, refreshing post kath. As a mother I truly appreciate you sharing your family style as well as your honesty. Please keep such posts coming because they are clearly by the number of comments…enjoyed by all! Thanks so much :)


63 mary @ minutes per mile December 12, 2013 at 3:23 pm

haha — well, i don’t even have a kid, and my husband and i can’t get into a dinner routine either! we eat anywhere from 6 pm to 9 pm depending on his work schedule, fitness classes, recipe, etc. in my books, you get an a+!


64 Becky December 12, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Edie was fantastic about food at this age – whatever we were eating, that’s what she wanted for dinner. She would try everything! If we were eating later, I’d serve her dinner in her high chair in the middle of the kitchen while I cooked and she kept me company. One thing that has remained constant – dinner time is not at a set time every day. In those days, it was because of Pat’s schedule, these days, it’s all three of us. 5:00 is piano lesson time, soccer practice time, her dogwalking job time, getting ready for concerts at school time, so there are definitely nights where sometimes dinner doesn’t even get started until 6-7-8 or somewhere in there. When I know we’ve got a busy night, I try to plan ahead and get some prep (or even dinner itself!) done early, but some days that just doesn’t happen. Or like yesterday, she decides as I’m serving dinner that she suddenly didn’t want the meal she had requested, so she fixed herself a bowl of cheerios instead.


65 cathy December 12, 2013 at 4:24 pm

We rarely get a chance to do family dinner. My husband usually doesn’t get home till after 7 and with school I like the kids in bed by 730/8, so they eat without us. It’s not ideal, I grew up in a house where we had family dinner together every night, but my mom also didn’t work till we were older so it made it easier.


66 @simple green moms December 12, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Great post! This is all so very true especially with a little one around =)


67 Lisa December 12, 2013 at 4:53 pm

No criticism here! You are doing a great job and going with the flow. I think it is important that you model a family meal. 14 month olds are little snackers,! Their tummies can’t hold too much at once.


68 Lori December 12, 2013 at 4:55 pm

I agree that feeding a baby/toddler is one of the hardest parts of parenthood (so far)! I really stressed (unnecissarily) when my son was 6 months-about 9 months when he really just wasn’t interested in solids. He finally came around and then I was stressed about what to feed him. So much got wasted but I guess that is to be expected. They are just having foods for the first time and we can’t expect them to like everything! I finally got smart and kept the things he liked on hand. Many nights he ate quacamole for dinner. Now that he’s almost 14 months, I strive to cook only family friendly meals. That means lots of stew-y stuff and pretty much just things I know he’ll eat (in theory!). He loves ground meat any way – tacos, meatballs, etc… It also means we eat a lot of the same things over and over, which is sort of a bummer because I love to cook and love variety, but it’s important for me that we all eat the same dinner, together, or try, anyway. And I know it’s just for the time being. My husband works at night so he goes to bed at 7:30 pm. This means that dinner after baby goes to bed is not an option. My husband plays with him while I cook, which starts at 5:30ish. Dinner is by 6:30 (ideally) and our son does fine with this. Baby goes to bed at about 7:30 most nights. On the nights when he doesn’t want what I’ve made I give him something I know he’ll eat, even if it’s just hummus (loves it!) or already steamed broccoli (try to keep it on hand). I hope I’m not starting a bad habbit by offering an alternitive to what I’ve cooked. In my opinon he’s too young to enforce “you will eat what I made”. Also, he still nurses so I don’t worry too much if he doesn’t have a rounded meal each night. I know that overall he’s getting what he needs. Another thing that I find helps him enjoy meals is using a fork and spoon himself. I hold the bowl and he scoops it up. Messy, but at least he eats. He’s not big on finger food. Never was. I have also found that whether he will eat or not is totally based on mood. Sometimes he will think he wants to get fussy when put in the highchair and it can take a while for him to snap out of it, but as soon as you get him laughing he is more willing to eat. I usually cram my food down my face when he’s had enough or in between his bites :) Sorry this is so long!


69 Lori December 12, 2013 at 5:18 pm

As if my comment wasn’t long enough… Thought I’d add dinners that my 14 month old likes – Taco meat (shredded or ground) with beans, rice, avacado. Almost anything in a stewy, tomato-y sauce – black eyed peas and kale is a fave (kale chopped up after cooked). Pasta with veg in red sauce (I chop it up so it’s not big bites of pasta). Curry potatoes and Peas from Daily Garnish. Palak Paneer from Trader Joes. The Cooksmarts BBQ Quinoa Burger featured on KERF :) Turkey Burgers. Moroccan Stew. Broccoli, Broccoli, Broccoli. Curry Meatballs from Aarti Sequera. All kinds of chili. Tofu all kinds of ways. Udon noodles with tofu and veg (I cook it with canned pineapple and soy sauce). Hope this helps some of you Mommas :)


70 KathEats December 12, 2013 at 5:47 pm

You have an impressive eater!


71 Lori December 12, 2013 at 5:51 pm

He has really surprised me seeing as how he hated food at first!


72 KathEats December 12, 2013 at 5:52 pm

M has been the opposite – he is way pickier now than in the early stages. Maybe they are one or the other :)


73 Stacy K. December 12, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Wow that is awesome Lori! I know you mention your LO eats with a spoon and fork? So do you usually mix all items together and let him have at it? Or is some of it picked up by fingers? We are having a really hard time with variety and I know G is starting to eat with a spoon better so that opens up a few more options.


74 Lori December 17, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Yes, I mix it up. Unless broccoli is involved. He loves that so much he will pick it up or spear small pieces with a fork and eat that by itself. But he can be a little leary of some foods. So even though I know he’ll love the flavors, he may not want to eat it unless it’s all chopped up small and mixed up. Then I just help guide the spoon or fork while holding the bowl for him. For instance, last night I made a Moroccan-ish stew with chicken, chickpeas, carrots, sweet potato, onion, raisins, canned tomatoes, garam masala, cinnamon, cayenne, cumin, corriander, cilantro, broth. He won’t usually eat chunks of carrots or sweet potato, so I threw a glop on the cutting board and minced it up before putting it in his bowl. Not smooth like mush, just smaller pieces. That way there are no big chucks and he can just spoon it up. I do that with all kinds of combos. He seems to prefer to eat out of a bowl than off the highchair tray.


75 Lori December 17, 2013 at 5:58 pm

…he started to want to use the utensils at breakfast. We have oatmeal and banana every morning and he wanted to use the spoon himself. Oatmeal is good for practicing because it stays on the spoon pretty well, unless they fling it really hard, which totally happens :) He got good with the fork by practicing on the banana. I break it into pieces and it’s easy for him to spear and stays on the fork well because of the texture. I bring several utensils to the table because they usually end up on the floor, or I end up feeding him with mine and he grabs it to use himself, so we need a few back-ups :)


76 Dana December 12, 2013 at 5:32 pm

I’m happy to see that I’m not the only one who’s dinner routine isn’t always routine!


77 Jeanie December 12, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Flexibility is the only way, I think. Less stress for all involved.

Is there a reason your knives are on the knife holder upside down, or is it just your preference?


78 KathEats December 12, 2013 at 8:48 pm

Just our pref. Matt always says a hand could come down on them if they are pointing up (or an eyeball…) and if it slips from your hand the blade will pass through your fingers. When they’re down neither would happen. I don’t really care what the “right” way is – his points make sense to me : )


79 Tasha December 12, 2013 at 9:17 pm

So funny how we all have our preferences. Like Matt I preferred mine down until I was working to fast one day I accidentally jabbed my other arm while turning the blade upright now the blades face up!! Does his high chair fit at the table without the tray? Wonder if he would sit longer being at the table.


80 Liz December 12, 2013 at 7:16 pm

We’re pretty lucky in that my husband is home by 4:30pm most days. We only have an 11 month old. She gets a snack in the late afternoon, and I do as much dinner prep as I can during her naps. Then my husband plays with her while I get dinner on the table and we usually sit down to eat around 5pm every day. The baby just eats table food with us and for now she is a great eater. She takes her time so we are usually able to enjoy our meal all together as a family. If she signs done before we’re finished, I take her tray but she stays at the table with us. I’m sure this will change at some point but it works great for now! I stay at home with her and I sit at the table and have breakfast and lunch with her as well, so she is used to sitting for meals.


81 Michelle Binkley December 12, 2013 at 8:05 pm

I think you guys are doing an AWESOME job raising a little boy who loves to eat real food. Very inspiring.
On a side note…I would love to start feeding my family (and myself) more fish. I didn’t grow up eating or cooking it so I’m really unsure where to begin. Do you have any recipes you would recommend for a beginning fish-eater?


82 KathEats December 12, 2013 at 8:47 pm

We feed M the same fish that we eat so seared salmon, trout, etc. Or canned salmon, trout, sardines.


83 Elizabeth December 12, 2013 at 8:16 pm

I have a 3.5 year old, a 16 month old, and a 27 week old inside baby (easiest one, ha). My husband gets home at 6 pm, but my girls are simply ready to eat at 5. We eat breakfast all four of us, lunch as the three if us (he’s a work), and the girls eat dinner together while my husband and I eat at 7 after they’re in bed. I prepare one meal (that’s the way I’ve always done it, and I think it helps). They eat at 5, and it’s still fine for us at 7. Sometimes the kids don’t love what I’ve made but I don’t really offer substitutions. They always seem to make it up the next day.


84 Coco December 12, 2013 at 8:29 pm

I so agree that feeding the toddler is the most stressful thing, I just wrote a post on that, how frustrated I am. They are so unpredictable and sometimes she just doesn’t want to eat anything.
How to balance not worrying they’ll be hungry later and trying to trick them to eat one bite?
Two questions, what do you do with the food that you offered but not consumed? And how much food in average M consumes in a day? I see some toddlers eating really big meals, and mine eats bites most of the time, and just as M, 10 min into meal, she’s all done!

Can you post a full day meal post of M? It would be useful for me to get a sense of how much and what to feed. I’m out of ideas and kind of desperate.


85 Teri December 12, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Your dinner looks delicious. Will you please share the polenta recipe.


86 KathEats December 13, 2013 at 6:48 am

It was store bought and then pan fried


87 Carol December 12, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Family dinners can be hard with little ones. It does get better though…my two children are 7 and 10 now and they love to help me in the kitchen. That’s not to say we don’t have our “witching hour” moments sometimes! As usual, love your post and your pictures!


88 Lisa @bitesforbabies December 13, 2013 at 7:26 am

After seeing the sizes of the pieces of food you give Mazen I realize how paranoid I am!!! I have a fear of choking…so you can imagine how LITTLE the pieces are that I give to my daughter!!


89 Erin December 13, 2013 at 9:56 am

Dinner time is rough at our house too. I have a 17 month old and it dinner is often like yours. But one thing my pediatrician told me at her 15 month visit is to try and get our daughter to sit at the table for at least 20 minutes, even when she is done eating. It will teach her that you are supposed to sit at the table at meal time. It was rough at first but she is getting used to it, and will sit while we finish our meal, if we interact and talk with her. Maybe give it a try, a few minutes at a time.


90 Ali December 13, 2013 at 11:55 am

Maybe I’m crazy but I’ve never put this much thought into the evening hours. I work 90 hours a week and I take a few hours in the evening to get the normal everyday stuff done and sit down with the fam for supper. It is by far the best part of the day, not the most stressful! Being able to spend the time with them, no matter what’s going on or who is crabby or how much needs to be done, is precious and I’m grateful that I can despite the crazy hours I work.


91 Amy December 13, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I have 3 girls 4,6, and 8.
Dinner at our house is usually between 6-7. We all usually get home around 5-6 depending on our after school activities or if I go to the gym.
I try to get dinner started right when we get home. If the girls are hungry, I let them have a small snack like applesauce, yogurt, or a piece of cheese and they work on their homework or play while I cook. Then we all sit down together and eat. No one gets up from the table until we are all done. No phones or electronics at the table- unless Mommy is taking pictures for her blog 😉 We share how our day was and what we are thankful for. It gets a little easier to do this when they get a bit bigger. I would say 2 is a good age to begin this. A baby and toddler get too antsy to sit. They want to get up and go!


92 Barca Mama December 13, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Thanks for the post Kath and cheers to all the blog readers who commented! I have a 7 month old, 3 year old and a 35 year old;) Our dinner time often resembles a 3 ring circus. So comforting to hear I am not the only one!


93 Jill December 13, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Dinner is never easy, that’s for sure! We both work full time and have a 2.5 year old. He’s ready to eat by 5:30, 6 at the latest. I would feed him and eat later but I myself get SO hungry after work, too! So I have to plan ahead, and we usually all eat together around 5:30. But I have to prepare something the night before or that 5:30 dinner won’t happen! If we are having a stir fry, I marinate the meat and mix the sauce the night before. Sometimes I make 2 pans of lasagna the night before so all I have to do is put it in the oven. I do a lot of things in the crockpot (taco meat, full meals, chicken, etc). I am lucky that I leave work at 4:30 and am home by 5, so I immediately start on dinner. One bad thing I do is that I let my son watch a 30 min TV show while I make dinner. I do feel bad about this, but with the prep done, I can always finish dinner in 30 min plus clean up of his day care dishes, so I think the 30 min show is worth it :) We all do the best we can!


94 Jill December 13, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Oh yeah, and we are really trying hard to implement that our toddler sit with us until we are all finished at the table. We started that around 2 years old, I think. It is hard most nights, though and takes a lot of repeating :)


95 Christa December 13, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Hi Kath,

Love this post. No one ever tells you how tough dinner time will be when you have children. It’s the craziest part of the day! I have a 19 month old and this is what we do for the moment and I know it will most likely change again soon but it works for now. He has a snack at 4 pm which helps hold him over until 6pm. On Sunday I make a big dinner that will be leftovers for Tuesday. On Weds I do a crockpot meal that is leftovers for Friday. Monday and Thursday meals are more simple meals that I can basically prep before my husband gets home. I rotate James toys and keep a few stashed in cabinents in the kitchen so that when he is at his fussiest I offer him a toy that is has not gotten bored with already. For the most part this keeps him entertained at that before dinner time. At meal time he gets his dinner or parts of our dinner (we don’t always eat the same things) and we save fruit for last because he will just eat that and then do the sign for all done! Around 15 months we introduced a plate with little compartments found at target. He loves having a plate and does a good job with not dumping it. When he is bored he will move the food around but continue to take little bites so its a win win. We finish eating and he keeps himself entertained while we finish eating.
Love you site Thanks!


96 Lindsey Hein December 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Dinner looked delicious! We have a 17 month old and I usually feed him around 5:30 and we wait to have dinner once he’s in bed so we can enjoy and not worry about anything. He goes down around 7:15 so we usually end up eating around 7:45. A little late, but I’m totally fine with that! We both usually have snack around 5 or so to hold over until dinner.


97 KT Kane December 13, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Relating so well to you, only times two kids! Flexibility is key.


98 Carrie December 13, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Maybe I missed a post on this, but does N nurse at all anymore? I have an 11 month old and am thinking about the transition.


99 Carrie December 13, 2013 at 7:11 pm

M!! Sorry, fat phone fingers :)


100 KathEats December 13, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Nope, we weaned three weeks ago. Here’s the BERF post!


101 Carrie December 13, 2013 at 7:16 pm

Thanks! I’ll go read it. :)


102 Heather December 13, 2013 at 10:01 pm

We are trying to get to the situation you had here with first and second dinner (second with all three of us), but it’s literally happened like three times in his 1 year of life. I just find that my husband and I are late eaters and can’t seem to get it together to eat at 6/6:30. I think this will be one of my bigger goals for the new year because i do want to eat as a family when possible.

On the few times we have been able to eat together I just keep giving him various food and more of whatever he liked and he just stays in the high chair when he’s done. I think it’s been okay for us because it’s pretty much the same as what we do at restaurants.


103 Carolyn S December 13, 2013 at 10:22 pm

When my oldest was toddler age my husband didn’t walk in the door until 7:30 so I made her dinner at 4:30. Then at 7:30 she’d have a few bites more (I’d have dinner ready when he walked in the door,) and spend time with her daddy then she was in bed by 8. By the time she was seven, we had three children, daddy got home at 5 and my then toddler ate with us all at 5. Ever since we’ve had dinner time together, based on when daddy gets home. Now he gets home between 6:30 and 7 again but I have only two left at home and the youngest is 14, so its easy to let them eat when they come home from high school and then eat again at dinner. . . teenagers are usually hungry you’ve got food coming their way. Its all good.


104 Sam December 14, 2013 at 12:41 am

Thanks for sharing! We have the same problem. We do dinner after the kids are in bed because we both work and would rather spend what little precious time we have with them being present rather than being distracted and rushed to prepare dinner.


105 gym jones December 14, 2013 at 5:03 am

yum Your dinner looks delicious


106 Lindsay December 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm

I’m happy for this honest look at dinner time. We are still a wee family of two, and interested in adding bebes to the mix eventually, but SO much changes, doesn’t it? It is refreshing to hear the challenges too, and I LOVE that flexibility rules the roost!


107 Brenda December 16, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Someone may have mentioned this, but is Mazen possibly ready for the booster seat? My son stayed at the table a lot longer once we transitioned him into using one.


108 Reghan December 17, 2013 at 4:15 pm

I love the idea of family dinners and hope to do this once my son is older. Right now he’s 16 months and goes to bed at 7pm. In the summer my husband doesn’t get home until 7pm so we’ve gotten in the habit of eating after Quinn is in bed. He eats at 5pm (leftovers from the night before or whatever I have planned/on hand for him) and I sit with him and then we eat once he’s in bed. As much as I like the idea of family dinner I also LOVE that hubby and I get to sit quietly and eat our meals without a whiny toddler begging food off our plates :) It’s our relax time haha
That being said, we eat breakfast together as a family almost every morning and all meals on weekends are usually together, except dinner. We still eat once he goes to bed! It just works for us.


109 Tami Jo Eaton December 18, 2013 at 4:35 pm

I have 3 kids and they did not come with a manual, like my mom promised, ha. I just have to laugh because I loved your mason jars on that little shelf and now with little hands crawling around, those had to be put away.


110 The Many Thoughts of a Reader December 20, 2013 at 10:36 pm

It’s changed definitely. When she was under a year, as long as I nursed her when we got home she didn’t really care when I put dinner on the table. She would then sit happily and eat whatever I put on her tray. Last year was the hardest while I worked. It was between 16-24 months. She wanted dinner RIGHT when we walked in the door at 5pm. My husband doesn’t even get home from work until 515 at the earliest but really not until 6pm because he works a fulltime job and then has a fulltime business he runs with his partner. So, yeah that was hard. She ate a lot of leftovers and sometimes did the second dinner like you described. Luckily she loves fruits and veggies so a lot of the time she ate mainly that and a little meat or pasta or rice by the time I had it done. This year is better. She gets to watch her Elmo right when we walk in the door and that buys me an hour for dinner. Or she comes in to the kitchen and I let her eat a few raw veggies/fruit while I’m getting everything prepared but we all eat together. She has become a very slow eater so normally we are waiting on her.


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