The Ten Stages of Dinner With Kids


10 stages of dinnerFeeding children is often way harder than it should be. Our family is blessed with four children, ages 5 and under, so relative pandemonium is something to which we are accustomed. Somehow meals magnify the difficulty of filling multiple kids’ tummies. My husband and I have discovered that our dinner often includes a series of stages, which together, complete the beautiful chaos that is a shared family meal with young kids.  


The Ten Stages of Dinner with Kids

1. Call to table.

Call everyone to the table. Children clamor into seats. At least one kid has commandeered another’s spot. Whining ensues. Seat-stealer is deposited into their normal chair which induces substantial moping.

2. Complaining. 

Upon sight of whatever happens to be on their plates, murmurs of dissatisfaction erupt. The murmurs give way to outrage that I did not serve hot dogs and ketchup like they apparently had planned for every meal for the rest of their life. Outrage gives way to utter disbelief that I would prepare anything with a whole grain or a tomato or β€”gasp! a casserole in which several different foods might touch each other. Finally the cries trickle into requests for drinks. If they aren’t happy with the food, they intend to drink their tummies full with water.

3. Cup gathering. 

We forgot to fill cups before the meal was served. Husband and I get up to fill sippy cups with milk or water. Cups are dropped. Requests about who is using the red one and who is using the blue one? fill the room. Finally drinks are full (or rather, half full, because apparently they have not consumed a drop of liquid all day by the way they gulp their drinks.)

4. Prayer rounds.

It used to be that my husband would say a prayer before dinner and everyone was cool with that. Now, the three children who can speak all want to pray too. We should be grateful that our children all want to talk to God. We should. But some nights, listening to a five year old list every.single.part of his body he’s thankful for is just more that I can take. I silently beg God for at least five hours of consecutive sleep and stare at my chicken, willing it to stay warm.

5. Three minutes of actual eating.

Immediately after prayer, the children who insisted they weren’t hungry devour any part of their meal which doesn’t completely offend them. Fruit and canned green beans evaporate from plates like they’ve been beamed up into an alien ship.

6. Poking and potty words.

As little bellies register the food, children start to lose interest in their plates. They turn their attention to siblings and begin poking one another or saying potty words. Nothing is as hilarious as sister whispering “toot!” through her fork. Apparently. We must maintain order. Husband calls an immediate halt on any words spoken in hopes that mouths will soon be filled with another bite. Which is when all of a sudden, everyone feels the need to go to the bathroom.

7. Potty breaks.

Kids disappear to do their business in the bathroom. Don’t we all know: nothing says “Enjoy your meal!” like wiping a butt in between bites of chicken and mashed potatoes.

8. Last bite campaign.

They’re all back at the table now, only slightly less restless than before. The games to get them to eat begin. Who can finish their plate first? Who is brave enough to try the enchilada casserole? Airplane forks loaded with peas fly around the table. Contests give way to gentle bribery with dessert. Gosh. How hard is it to take one more bite?! More widespread lamentation about the lack of hot dogs and ketchup choruses around the table.

9. The evaluation and shared look.

Husband and I share a look across the table. One kid’s plate is nearly empty. Another is still acting like his sliced tomato is trying to kill him. The two year old has consumed three beans from the look of her plate. I reason that the beans contain protein and will at least keep her full longer than three Cheerios. The only child happily shoving food toward his mouth is the baby. Since he is 9 months, most of his food is now underneath his seat. I’ll find it in six weeks when I finally get around to cleaning his high chair. We call it. Dinner is officially over.

10. The clear-off.

Dishes clatter as plates are cleared, more sippy cups are dropped and the three older children file to the living room to wrestle- judging by the sound of their whooping. Husband and I wonder if it’s bedtime yet. I start storing away leftovers and remind myself that these family dinners are worth while. Someday my cooking nice meals will be appreciated.

Someday these memories we create around the table will be sweet souvenirs from a season which passed like a hurricane.

Until then, hot dogs and ketchup sure sound good for tomorrow.

Somebody out there please, PLEASE tell me we are not the only ones whose family meals look like this! What stages do your dinners go through? Comment below and tell us all about it! πŸ™‚

…If your dinners do look like this sometimes, go ahead and share?  πŸ˜€


  1. This post totally had me laughing. Absolutely true. Hang in there, it does get better. Family dinners are worth it. A #11 in our house is a child coming around saying they are hungry before I’ve even finished cleaning up. ?

  2. Haha. I am glad I am not alone. This is my life as well. Every single night. πŸ™
    I take heart in at the fact that at the very least, they are getting practice counting as we negotiate how many more bites they must eat before they are allowed to leave…

  3. Hi Rachel! I do have hope that family meals will easier someday. πŸ™‚ Thanks! …. and you’re right about #11. My kids’ hunger usually shows up riiiiggghhhtt after they’ve brushed their teeth. πŸ˜‰

  4. Yes, the baby eats more than mom and the 3, almost 4 year old takes a bite or two and tells me it is the best dinner ever, then instantly hates it. I try to leave the big kids plate of food at the table for the inevitable “mom, I’m hungry” so they can finish dinner. I’m not a short order cook. She either eats what I make (she is the farthest from a picky eater, so I know she will eat it when hungry enough) or goes to bed hungry.
    Big kid also never fails to tell me she is hungry right after it is announced that it is bedtime. Sorry, darling, that bedtime procrastination trick no longer works.
    We are working hard at eating our meals when they are offered, not when she wants to avoid going to bed.

    • Hi Lacey! You sound like you guys have a great system down. πŸ™‚ It sounds pretty universal that kids are hungry after dinner. Whew– not just my children. πŸ˜‰ Thanks for commenting!

  5. You are not alone!!! That’s exactly what out table is like but I’ve never been able to put it into words so well! Every night I wonder why I cook and they wonder why I’m trying to kill them with dinner!

    Thanks for making me laugh today! I REALLY needed a good laugh!

    • I think I was ultimately inspired by that For The Love quote that you shared. πŸ˜€ So I guess the #fourkids club dinners look the same. Relieved! πŸ˜‰

  6. The math lesson stage where we section off what you have to eat and then count each bite. This stage is coupled with the nausea stage. Each of those last bites counted causes gagging and one of us to say, ” don’t you dare throw up!”

    • Hi Amanda,
      Hah! Yes, the math phase! We use our fingers as “targets” and subtract with each bite gagged down. πŸ˜€ Good one! πŸ™‚

  7. Also 4 kids, ages 4-9. While I deal with all of these things, my biggest challenge is getting them to the table and getting them to sit at all. Since 3 of them are boys and bet close on age I’m just trying to enjoy the this time as the idea of the amount of food they’ll consume as teenagers is a scary thought

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