R.O.D.

September 9th, 2011 · 53 Comments · Dinner, Rituals, Rules

In my next life, I want to be Brooke Reynolds, creator not just of the inspired family blog inchmark, but of the kind of life where kids have hand-sewed mongrammed ballet and book bags; where families have color-coordinated reunions (and seem to genuinely like each other); and where there is no such thing as a detail that is too small to be made special. Brooke, a former designer at Martha Stewart Living, is a big believer in eating dinner with her brood (her husband and three kids) and here she guest-posts about a few rules laid down for the family table. And yes, she is responsible for the beautiful artwork as well. See what I mean about simple made special? –Jenny

We love family dinner at our house, I’ve got three children ages 1 to 7 and that moment when we all sit down together to eat a good meal…it really is my favorite moment of the day. I’ve been loving all the recipes and great tips I’ve learned from DALS, and I’m happy to share our Rules of Dinner — some ideas that have helped my family enjoy our dinners together. 

The first trick of family dinner is getting the family together. We try to eat around the same time each night, and at the same place (around our dining room table). I think consistency is key. Kids don’t eat at the kitchen counter, or up in their rooms. Even if you aren’t hungry, you still join the family at the dinner table.

This was a phrase my mother invented, and she used it often at our dinner table when I was growing up. Dinner time is sacred, and only nice things are said at the table. You may want to remind your son to clean up his room, but wait until after dinner. Siblings don’t bicker, parents don’t lecture. The table is a safe place.

For adults this means: No newspapers. No magazines. No phones. No laptops, etc. For kids: No legos or other toys. No books. No homework. If the phone rings, just let it ring. (This rule is sometimes harder for
the adults than the children!)

We use our best manners at the table. We say please and thank you. We ask for things instead of just grabbing them. Dinnertime is the perfect place to teach children the correct way to behave at meals, in fact my
mom used to read us a page from Miss Manners during dinner each night.

Granted this may not be necessary if you don’t have small children, but all four on the floor refers to the legs of your chair: All four legs need to remain on the floor at all times. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone who is rocking back and forth as they eat (and my kids need to be reminded a few times each meal).

So you don’t like broccoli, that’s okay. Forcing kids to eat food they hate is a game I don’t enjoy playing. But we do ask our kids to try a bit of everything on the table, it can just be a bite or two. I want them to learn to be polite about food, and learn to try things that seem a little scary.

The dinner table is a great place to talk about all the busy details of your day, but not the place to YELL about it. We need to remind our 5-year-old Bee about this quite frequently, as she often has exciting news to report. We’re all for talking, but it needs to be with a quiet voice.

One of the requirements of dinner at our house is “High and Low”. We take a minute to go around the table and everyone shares their high point and low point of the day. I love hearing about the kids high points, but the low points are even more interesting.. they share things I sometimes wouldn’t hear about any other way. Often someone doesn’t have a low point to share, in that case, you share two high points.

It’s hard to spend an hour making dinner and then hear a chorus of “But I don’t like shrimp!” I try to make dinners I know my kids will want to eat, but I also like to try new things, which means that every once in a while, dinner is a flop. We’re trying to teach our kids to be kind to the person who made dinner, so we ask them to keep quiet, eat the things they like at the table, and if they’re still hungry after dinner they can grab a slice of bread or some fruit to hold them over until breakfast.

The person who cooks is never left alone to clean up. The kids clear their plates as they leave the table, and everyone grabs a few more things and takes them into the kitchen. Lately we’ve been trying to wash the dishes really quickly so we have time for a walk around the neighborhood after dinner. Good motivation to get dinner cleaned up so we can get out the door.

Do you have rules at your house for dinner? I’d love to hear them, so please share.

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53 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Erin // Sep 9, 2011 at 8:56 am

    This is wonderful, I will have to bookmark this for the future. Thanks for sharing. :)

  • 2 Katie // Sep 9, 2011 at 9:10 am

    These rules were basically exactly the rules my parents had growing up. A nice reminder for when I have kids of my own. :)

  • 3 Bernie // Sep 9, 2011 at 10:00 am

    With boys, I had to institute a “no burping or farting at the table” rule! We often played 20 questions, or other trivia games during dinner, not with a board or pieces, just something to get everyone (5 of us) involved in creative thinking or something educational and fun.

  • 4 Sarah // Sep 9, 2011 at 10:22 am

    My children are now 21, 19 and 17. These were our rules for many, many years. We even did “High/Low” (although we didn’t have that great name for it). Not only did it get the conversation started, but it also gave us insight into what made these kids tick!

  • 5 julie v // Sep 9, 2011 at 10:30 am

    You should make a poster out of this. I’d buy it!

  • 6 Jan @ Family Bites // Sep 9, 2011 at 10:58 am

    I love the “Only complements to the chef” rule!

  • 7 Julia // Sep 9, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Although the notion of “rules” is not exactly appealing to me, the contents are just fantastic! so in spite of my reservations I may make these mine one day.

    The really tricky thing here is to educate my husband first… My rules would be phrased something like: Not to make faces or sounds to less appealing food (I cannot tell how frustrated I feel when we have veggies salad or spinach pie and he moos), Not to flee the scene once the last bite was swallowed, Turn off the damned radio or tv already (fortunately we don’t own a telly, but he does glue his eyes when we’re eating with in-laws).

    The high and lows sound really, really good to me. I didn’t have those growing up and my memories of family meals aren’t very exciting.

    Thank you for sharing!!!

  • 8 Amanda // Sep 9, 2011 at 11:03 am

    These are wonderful rules, I am going to implement the Four on the Floor tonight! Growing up the only two rules we had at the tables were 1) Two bites of everything on your plate and 2) No criticizing the chef (aka mom). those two rules have carried over to my dinner table with a few others (We have Best and Worst instead of High and Low) and they seem to work well.

  • 9 Jennifer // Sep 9, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Oh man, great stuff…Who can whip up a silkscreen poster of these? I want one! They are similar to what we ask for around our table, but the language is clear, kind and succinct.
    Thank You!

  • 10 Rachel // Sep 9, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    We also have the rule/custom that in addition to not complaining about whatever mom and/or dad cooked, we always say a genuine “Thank you” to the chef(s) for cooking. Even my 2 year old son does it. Thanks for the great list.

  • 11 Alison // Sep 9, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    I grew up with asking, “May I please be excused.” We struggle to enforce rules with the 2y.o. and even keeping technology away goes out the window when daddy is gone for days at a time, and is available to skype!

  • 12 Grace @Eatdinner // Sep 9, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    I love these rules and the simple powerful way you display them. Truly wonderful! I love the “Only Compliments to the Chef” rule. I sometimes find the chef himself/herself (since we both trade cooking) tends to be the most critical of the meal, and I try to bite my own tongue so I don’t model being critical to the kids.

    Alison: I think if Daddy is only available via Skype that may be a valid reason to bend the “no distractions” rule.

  • 13 Tara // Sep 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    No toys at the table has always been our unbending rule which fits in well with “No distractions.” But I’ll admit that my husband and I frequently have the NYTimes Sunday crossword between us at the table. In our defense, we get the kids involved with helping us figure out the answers. I figure if we’re all doing it together, maybe it doesn’t count as a distraction? And we could be raising a couple of crossword champs, in the bargain.

    Great suggestions, all of them. So glad there is still a critical mass of people out there trying hard to have dinner together every night. Well done.

  • 14 meg // Sep 9, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Maybe a silly question – are you explicit with your kids that there are 10 dinner rules? or are these merely instructions that you repeat until they understand they are rules. We have a 2 1/2 year old and I’m trying to figure out how you instill the fact that things are rules…. thanks!

  • 15 kimberly // Sep 9, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    I love #2. In my family growing up, we always ate together, but I don’t have warm fuzzy memories about it. I remember a lot of fighting, nagging & general discomfort. I like this rule because it’s an hour or so out of the day when everyone can be pleasant and have no worries :) Hopefully, when I have kids, their memories will be better ones :)

  • 16 Jen // Sep 9, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    Loved this. Displayed them to my family tonight right after we talked about our “highs and lows”.

  • 17 Ali // Sep 9, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    She is really cute, I agree. I love her dad’s blog as well. Check it out if you haven’t already. He is doing a great job reminding us all to eat a little healthier each day in such a kind way.

    We have a lot of those same rules at our home as well. We have three kids so one of our rules is that we have to respect everyone’s favorites. If we have Daisy’s favorite meal every night, that doesn’t leave room for Kyle’s, Abbie’s or even Mommy or Daddy. Someone is always not going to love the favorite of someone else but we have to be respectful and all get a chance to enjoy our favorites. Sadly, Mommy doesn’t run a restaurant.

  • 18 Michelle // Sep 9, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    This is just what our family needs. I often lecture during dinner, get upset when I hear “yuck” or “I HATE” something, and my husband tunes us all out and reads the paper or a book.

    I think we might have some changes at the dinner table next week.

  • 19 Rhonda // Sep 10, 2011 at 4:01 am

    We raised 4 kids and my husband’s rule was “You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it.” (akin to your take a taste of everything rule). Turns out our adult kids are much more adventurous eaters than we– they introduce us to new foods now.

  • 20 Tina I. // Sep 10, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Similar rules at our house, but this makes me want to print them out and post them for all to see!

  • 21 Laurie M // Sep 10, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Great rules! My Dad never let us eat until my Mom was seated at the table. He said (correctly), that it was rude to begin eating until everyone was seated at the table. Besides, we ate so fast we would have been done by the time Mom sat down! I think this is an important rule, that I try to implement in our house as well.

  • 22 Frankly Entertaining // Sep 10, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    I love these, and I would also buy a copy in poster format! I’m in total agreement with Julia about not fleeing the scene! One of our major rules is that no one starts eating until everyone is at the table.

  • 23 maria // Sep 11, 2011 at 9:37 am

    wonderful post. these are all common/unwritten rules in our house – nice to have them written down (I’ve never done this) and with a 12,11 and 7 yr old I feel like a broken record sometimes. Love #9. And right there buried in #9, my other issue. When they don’t like dinner as much, they can pick bread, fruit, but what I have more often now is hunger right before bedtime – not when I want them to eat. I say no to food right before bed but then I feel awful. Maybe its a different topic, Any tips here?

  • 24 Amanda // Sep 11, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    maria – I was against eating before bedtime, but my husband let it slide so I did too. we agreed that a banana or a cup of cottage cheese was fine and then he has to brush his teeth!

  • 25 Jen // Sep 11, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Maria, sometimes our dinner is quite a while before bedtime or I realize that the kids really did not “love” what I made so they did not get very full. If they do ask for something before bed then I’ll only offer unexciting things like yogurt or banana. I try to think of how hard it’d be for me to sleep with a little bit of a hungry tummy.

  • 26 Mamaholt // Sep 11, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    I want the poster too!

    I, too, was a bit skeptical about “rules” for the table. SO many rules these days! But I loved all of these. I got such a warm and peaceful image of this family having dinner and it made me long for the same. We have a “discriminating” eater (he’s 7) and some of my most challenging mama moments are in response to, “I don’t like this!”
    Sweet, sweet. Great post!

  • 27 Liz // Sep 12, 2011 at 12:00 am

    When we decided we were having children, we always intended having us eat dinner together as often as possible. We actually have some of the same rules you have listed but didn’t have the “Table is a Safe Place”. We’re definitely going to adopt that.

    What a wonderful posting – Thank you!

  • 28 Carolyn // Sep 12, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Our children are now 22, 20, 15 and 6 (!) and we always gather together around the kitchen island, with the wonderful smells and sights, hold hands, and say “Thank you” to God in a prayer, as a reminder that He is the giver of all good gifts!

    The follow up “rule” is that the child who is willing to voice the prayer (from the heart, no rote prayers!) gets to fill their plate first!

  • 29 ivey@durangomom.com // Sep 12, 2011 at 11:35 am

    just found you! love it all…huge believer in the family table…it could possibly save the world!

    thanx!

    http://www.durangomom.com

  • 30 Kristen // Sep 12, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Love these rules! Well, all but #6. From working with families of picky eaters I’ve seen that the 1 bite rule works for some kids, but for others it makes their picky eating worse. For those kids a revised version of this rule works well – 1 bit of each food needs to be present on their plate . They can choose to try it or not (that way 1 day they’ll try it on their own). What I have found works for all kids is that they must be allowed to stop at 1 bite (no “come on, try another bite” ) and they have to be allowed not to like it (no “see it’s not that bad”). Because, if they aren’t allowed to stop at 1 bite, or allowed to not like a food, they’ll become more and more resistant to trying that 1 bite.
    Kristen
    http://www.facebook.com/VitaminKNutritionConsulting

  • 31 Tricia // Sep 12, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    I totally agree with you on the importance of coming together at the dinner table every night to just reconnect with each other. I especailly love the rule “all four on the floor”!

  • 32 April // Sep 12, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Love these rules!

  • 33 Micaela @MindfulMomma // Sep 12, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    These are awesome! We follow many of them already but I’m tempted to print out this post (and the adorable graphics) and suggest the rest. Especially love the “high and low” – genius!!

  • 34 Jamie // Sep 12, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    The fact that you refer to the moment of sitting down together as your favorite has me sold on these already. I’m printing them to share with my husband so we can start to model these “rules” in our house too. Awesome!

  • 35 Becca - Our Crazy Boys // Sep 12, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    What a wonderful post!! We have the same rules at our house -all of them!! Maybe we should frame them :)

    I especially like the “all four on the floor” because it sounds so much better than “put your chair down before you crack your head open.”

  • 36 Courtney // Sep 13, 2011 at 11:56 am

    Growing up, we also had the rule that everyone eats together. No matter what! (I remember being a teenager and hating this rule! I always had to be home for dinner, unlike so many of my friends.) My mom always asked the five of us kids to say one thing that we did that day and one thing that we learned. It made for interesting dinner discussions when you have five kids spaced out over ten years. The oldest might have learned about algebra, and the youngest might have learned out to tie his shoe! :)
    x Courtney

  • 37 Erin @ vie balance // Sep 13, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    These are great! Before our son was born, my husband and I pretty much brain drained (catching up on DVR, facebook, Google reader, etc.) while eating dinner. Our son will be one soon and I have been making an effort to try to get us to eat as a family, no distractions.
    I’m going to try some of your rules and also try to keep our dinner table clear of clutter. I think that will help set the tone for a good family dinner!

  • 38 mollie // Sep 13, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Love #6. My dad always called it a “No Thank You Helping” – and as a kid I couldn’t stand it. But as things go, I now require the “No Thank You Helping” at our table. It has broadened their little taste buds and resulted in pleasant surprises. Hooray for wise parents!!

  • 39 Phil // Sep 14, 2011 at 12:45 am

    In the 17 years since we first moved in together my partner and I have tried very hard to make our friends really feel like guests when they visit and eat with us. Once several years ago we included some co-workers, and one girls wandered into the kitchen and started to rinse the glass from her coke and pour a little wine. I took it from her and explained, “This is not a frat house pizza party. You’re a guest in my home. I want you to feel comfortable but I want to take care of you. I’ll get you some wine. And in a proper glass, too.”. I always try to remember that the joy of family is sharing the work and the joy of having company is relieving them from it.

  • 40 danielle // Sep 14, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    two of our rules

    “set for the occasion”

    set the table completely and neatly. from cutlery to beverages, from rustic to fine, we set the table. tablecloths don’t need to be an exception but a staple.

    “equality for all”
    even the smallest muncher at our table drinks from glass and eats from silverware. I don’t know about you, but my sparkling water doesn’t taste so good in a plastic cup.

  • 41 Dave // Sep 19, 2011 at 11:32 am

    These are awesome. I printed them out, read them to the kids, discussed them, and they were passed unanimously. One small problem – today my daughter learned about fire safety in her preschool class and asked my wife where we go if there’s a fire. My wife told her that we’d go to a neighbor’s house and call the fire department. My daughter replies, “Let’s just go to the dining room table. Remember, it’s a safe place.”

  • 42 shari brooks // Sep 19, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Ah, this post is very meaningful to me. I wrote a similar post about Table Time and the positive experiences and habits that come from eating diners together as a family. We have Roses and Thorns which is very similar to your Highs and Lows. We also have themed nights so the kids get excited about actually eating dinner. For example, Wednesday nights are Breakfast for Dinner nights. You’d be amazed at how excited the kids can get when eating pancakes and yogurt for dinner.

  • 43 Amy @ Croquet & Cocktails // Sep 19, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    Family meals are my fondest memories. We had similar rules. I think meal time is such an important time to connect as a family.

    Lovely post. Thank you!

  • 44 molly // Sep 19, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    this list ROCKS.

    and while we follow much of it already, the no media at the table’s going to be tough — what, no New York Times?! i’ll work on it; all toward a good cause…

  • 45 Brooke Reynolds // Sep 26, 2011 at 12:27 am

    Ha, ha! Dave, I laughed out loud when I read that your daughter thinks the dinner table is the safest place in a fire. I love it! Thanks for sharing..

  • 46 Lisa | Being An American Mom // Sep 26, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    LOVE this! My husband and I have 3 and 1 year old boys. We are slowly starting on our dinner traditions. I will say right now the no distractions one is hard for us (me). Anyway, I’m going to share your list with my husband.

    Right now our rules are: stay at the table while everyone is eating, take your plate to the sink when you’re done, use your napkin, say please and thank you.

    I found you from your dad’s blog. LOVE his blog too!

  • 47 Jenn // Sep 28, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    I recently stumbled upon your ROD post from another blog (Cup of Jo), and your “Highs/Lows” are a big hit in my house now. We have two girls (6 and 8) and they look forward to this. I was particularly taken with the rule that dinnertime is a safe place. I shouldn’t think of it as an opportunity for a captive audience.

    Thank you for these wonderful tidbits :)

  • 48 DianaK // Oct 6, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Just found your site via DALS. Love it, especially this post. It nice to see families getting back to family dinner and table manners. This is pretty close to my rules, although I will be adding the “compliments only to the chef”. We do favorite part of the day too – I like the idea of adding the low part of the day. It is a great way to find out everything that is going on in their day. I also have taught my kids that you do not say “I don’t like something” you say “I do not prefer it” I feel it sounds a little more polite and they are more aware of not hurting someone’s feeling who spent the day slaving away at a stove.

  • 49 Dave // Oct 7, 2011 at 9:52 am

    I wanted to let you know that this is still a huge hit at our house with all the kids. My 4-year-old daughter is always saying, “I forgot one of the rules, can you read them again?” She just wants to hear them… thanks again!!!

  • 50 Gypsy Chaos // Oct 14, 2011 at 2:55 am

    For those worried about giving up their distractions — the conversations become much more interesting than the distractions quite quickly!
    AND — nobody takes an hour to eat dinner on a regular basis! From everyone sitting to everyone done, it’s about 20 mins. {{The long meals are on holidays in our family. Lately they’ve lasted for several hours – of course the youngest are almost 19.}}

    If the concept doesn’t convince enough already, studies show that children and teens who eat as a family score significantly higher on SATs. Only the act of eating together was required; the topics of conversation had no impact.

  • 51 staci ericson // Nov 13, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    I REALLY love the concept “dinner is a safe place.” Sometimes dinner is the only time family comes together and it’s tempting to use it as a time to discuss issues, but you’re right; it’s not the time or the place.

    It was this same idea of “making the table a safe place” that led me to create Golly Gee-pers! Table Manners Cards. I wanted to teach my kids good manners but didn’t want to creat conflict at the table. The game, just introduced to the market immediately won Dr. Toy awards for Best New Products for Children and Best Socially Responsible Products for Children, 2011. I would love to offer you a free sample to review and an additional one as a give a way. Please take a look at my website and see if you are interested. Also, I have just posted a blog for a game that will keep peace at the table for T-giving http://www.gollygee-pers.blogspot.com. I really feel that our websites compliment rather than compete with each other so I hope you will be open to this kind of cross promoting.

    I very much look forward to hearing from you.

    warm regards,

    Staci Ericson
    Owner/Creator, Golly Gee-pers!
    http://www.gollygee-pers.com
    925.324-4418

  • 52 selina // Mar 8, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    I have a 4-year-old daughter and one of our rules is “Knees or bottom facing forward”.

    We also talk about one thing we are grateful for. We got the idea from the book “Raising Happiness” by Christine Carter. Our daughter got into the habit of saying “you and you” meaning the parents but she surprises us too by saying she is grateful for a family outing, etc. And happily, as parents, we reflect on what we’re grateful for too. It has been nice to consistently recognize the good in our lives.

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