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another simple question

going family style

Since my last simple question was such a success, I have another one for you this evening:

What is your dinner style? Buffet? Family style? Serve yourself?

Let me explain….for me, the moments right before we sit down to a meal can be pure chaos. Kids are whining for dinner, Dan is walking in the door, I'm still counting out forks and napkins, and realizing I forgot to put out everyone's drinks.

And I'm notoriously guilty of calling everyone in for dinner way too early–so that they're champing at the bit, mulling around the kitchen, and I'm still running around getting things together. (In my defense, it seems like the days I wait until every detail is taken care of, "people" lolly-gag too long and end up sitting down  to a table full of cold food.)

I used to be a fan of the "buffet style" dinner, where I'd serve everything up from the stove and pass out plates to people sitting at the table. But sometimes, this gets a little crazy–the lack of counter space, the ones waiting for their plates to be fixed, hungry little ones digging in (and sometimes devouring) before we've even said grace, the getting up and down every time something is forgotten or someone needs more.

So lately, I've been bringing everything to the table and serving it up family style. It makes for a full table but it seems to make for less trips up and down and a smoother transition into dinner. I *think*.

But I'd love to hear your style.

How do you get everything on the table, get settled and enjoy a family meal?

going family style

Since my last simple question was such a success, I have another one for you this evening:

What is your dinner style? Buffet? Family style? Serve yourself?

Let me explain….for me, the moments right before we sit down to a meal can be pure chaos. Kids are whining for dinner, Dan is walking in the door, I'm still counting out forks and napkins, and realizing I forgot to put out everyone's drinks.

And I'm notoriously guilty of calling everyone in for dinner way too early–so that they're champing at the bit, mulling around the kitchen, and I'm still running around getting things together. (In my defense, it seems like the days I wait until every detail is taken care of, "people" lolly-gag too long and end up sitting down  to a table full of cold food.)

I used to be a fan of the "buffet style" dinner, where I'd serve everything up from the stove and pass out plates to people sitting at the table. But sometimes, this gets a little crazy–the lack of counter space, the ones waiting for their plates to be fixed, hungry little ones digging in (and sometimes devouring) before we've even said grace, the getting up and down every time something is forgotten or someone needs more.

So lately, I've been bringing everything to the table and serving it up family style. It makes for a full table but it seems to make for less trips up and down and a smoother transition into dinner. I *think*.

But I'd love to hear your style.

How do you get everything on the table, get settled and enjoy a family meal?

74 comments on “another simple question”

  1. We’re working on this as Lentil is 5 months and not officially eating with us.But.We make sure we eat at the table, even if it’s a busy night and we could beg off for work or exhaustion. Growing up, my family ate at the table, everything out, including a pitcher of water. No bottles of anything. Condiments in their own ramekins. We adhere to that, for the most part, because it makes every meal feel a little polished, a little special.Everyone at the table before you can start eating. No books, no computers, no ipods, etc. so that we’re talking with each other.

  2. I always call everyone to the table way too early also; not great. I fill everyone’s plates and pass them out – I like to decide how much the boys have to eat in order to get dessert. They’d much prefer family style, I’m sure!

  3. I have the same problem, where I call everyone to the table, and someone starts whining, and I’m still rushing to get plates to the table. The way it works around here, though, is Dad tries to keep the little guy busy while the 2 big kids help me set the table (nothing fancy; sometimes just making sure the table is cleared of pencils and paper is “setting the table”!), or cook, and everyone grabs their drinks on the way, while I dish up each plate, and everyone comes to fetch their own plate. Also, with a family of five, I make sure to not plan anything too overwhelming. The point is to eat, and that happens quickly. Fresh, simple food is easiest, and that leaves us more time to connect after a long day. Sometimes, though, I just dread dinner time, LOL.

  4. Great question! We need to work on our dinner for a couple of reasons. We have a large island in the center of our kitchen and we tend to eat there instead of the dining room (although I’d prefer the dining room, but its a weird distance from the kitchen, long story)…anyway….all the food is kind of right there in the kitchen, at the eating area, so I serve it up as we sit down. Our meals have always been together, but casual. I would like to work on getting more help with setting the table, I think its important for the kids to do that.

    Peter is *always* last to the table, drives me nuts. I call him early on purpose, and it kind of works.

  5. we eat family style around here. we live in an old farm house, so there is no eat in kitchen. we drag everything into the dining room. the 5 year old gets out the cloth napkins and the 2 year old gets out the forks. they set that up while i’m serving up plates and dad makes drinks. it seems to work pretty well for us. i mean, the 2 year old is into his food way before prayer, but besides that, it is pretty smooth.

  6. I have two things that I absolutely adore: a large serving tray and a rolling serving cart. I can load up everything I need onto one of those in the kitchen, and then bring it out to where we are eating. Because of a very variable evening schedule, sometimes we eat at our dining table, sometimes in the living room in front of the tv, sometimes outside as a picnic, and even sometimes in bed! But wherever I am “serving”, I can get organized in the kitchen with those two tools.

  7. This is a very tough question.I am a mother of 5 and we have no consistent way we do this.The one thing that is for sure, I do NOT like my food cold. I would rather not eat than eat it cold.I never put out drinks, everyone gets their own. This must be done before I call them to the table or they must wait until after the blessing.To be honest, the menu often determines what “style” of serving I choose.This comment is quite long, sorry.

  8. My kids set the table, and we put all the food on the table family style. I dish up the girl’s plates to make sure there we keep things “balanced”. We tried leaving things in the kitchen, but that just means I am up and down the entire meal. I try to put things into serving dishes, not just the pots nd pans (unless they are pretty!) but that isn’t always the reality….just the ideal.

  9. We are family style, at the kitchen table. No one eats until everyone is served and grace has been said. Sometimes it takes Fatty a bit to get to the table, so like Blair, I have to call early. No one can get up until everyone is finished either. And then we all clear the table together and most nights, Fatty does the majority of the dishes since I do the majority of the cooking. The girls set the table a couple of times a week – I’d like them to do it more, but if we are still working on homework, etc., I have a hard time making them give up the few free minutes they have for that. But in the summer, it’s all them.

    I love this, Molly. I’ll be reading to see what everyone else does, too.

  10. We also eat family style. I have older kids though. I assign jobs like…set the table! Get the drinks! Help me get the vegetables in a bowl!

    even little ones can set the table. You get the plates & silverware out & get that started early.

    I just celebrated my 23 wedding anniv this past saturday…so it’s been a process to get it all on the table at once. Last minute stuff is the most challenging…

  11. My kids are grown now, but we always ate family style. Once they were old enough to help, they got their own drinks, and helped get the food on the table. We had a firm rule that no one ate until Mom sat down though. If I cooked, my husband cleaned up, and again, once the kids were old enough they took care of all their dirty dishes.

  12. Well there are six of us. And with ages ranging from 14 down to 8 evenings are usually fraught with me running in and out, dropping various kids to various places, never knowing what time my husband will be home or whether I need to pick him up too. BUT. EVERY night we sit down to eat. Sometimes it’s only dinner for 4 or 5, but when the dinner is ready, we sit down.

    I also make the kids “set” the table, and have been doing this since they were really really young (3 or 4). They have to fill the water jug and work out what plates we need, what cutlery. Now sometimes I may have to nag and nag to get them to do it, but that is their contribution to our meal. They also have to clear the table and stack the dishwasher-also something they have had to do from when they were very young (I think we got our first dishwasher when the eldest was 4 or 5). We don’t have napkins unless it’s the weekend when we do fancy dinners (my husband cooks).

    We have big trivets on the table and serve it all there-family style I guess you called it. This means that growing teenage boys can always go back for more if they need it and latecomers to the table can help themselves on weekdays. We have plenty of rules (manners), like no one starts to eat until everyone is ready, no one leaves the table before everyone is finished (I sometimes break this rule while waiting for my 8 and 9 year olds to finish their food and having to run off and pick up other). Being an Aussie living in the US, we are total nazis about making our kids eat with a knife and fork “British” style.

    Dinner is the time for us to come together as a family and talk and share and laugh and teach the kids. Even on Friday night (Pizza night) we sit down to eat it at the table.

    Good post Molly-good discussion.

  13. hi! i don’t think i’ve ever commented before…anyway…it’s just 3 of us but our son rarely eats with us but i understand how a meal can become chaos. what i like to do is pour all the drinks and have them ready in the fridge then i serve family style. the hubby gets home just about the time i’m finishing up making dinner so i get the table set and put out the pre-poured drinks and anything else we’ll need while he’s relaxing. then the food is brought to the table and then i say “ok, come to the table”. oh, to save time while i’m making dinner i set out everything i’ll need to cook dinner in the morning, down to the spoons for stirring, etc. that way i have all day to figure out if i’m missing something. if it needs to stay in the fridge i put everything i need on one side. since our son doesn’t typically eat what we do he either goes without dinner or he gets a meal before i start cooking.

  14. I have 5 children. 14, 10, 6, 4 & 2. The oldest two take turns setting the table and getting water. The 6 year old clears each night. I serve the food from he stove and have a “helper” deliver it to the table. I always serve the youngests first so it has a chance to cool and then I go up in age. When I’m serving mine and my husbands I call everyone in so that they are not sitting too early. Works pretty well, except for burritos which are very time intensive so food tends to get cold. I also keep the 2 year olds plate out of reach til I sit down.The chaos starts with everyone picking up their forks and shoveling down food. : )

  15. Depends on what we are having. Usually it’s all on the table. Luckily I have teens so they get drinks ready and my youngest sets the table and calls everyone in to eat. As they get older it’s not as crazy. I do remember when it was all on me and how stressed I would get some nights. I do think it is important that we all sit down and eat together without any distractions like tv, texting, etc. I know my kids like it – my daughter even wrote a persuasive argument paper about how important it is for school.

  16. Usually I put the salad and bread on the table. Boys are the table setters (drinks, napkins, forks). I serve the hot things from the stove, so I have the plates. G gets home late-ish, so we usually eat right when he gets in the door (6:30-7). I try to get the boy bathed and in jammies before we eat. We have family supper every night. No eating until it’s all blessed, but we all sneak nibbles.

  17. I do it assembly line style. I line the plates up on the counter. I then proceed to fill all the plates up and get them ready. I then call everyone in to grab their plates. Everyone is responsible for picking up their own silverware and drinks. I find it’s easier to just serve in the kitchen and not having to move pots and dishes over to the table. If anyone wants seconds, they get up and help themselves.

  18. Lisa, I like the idea of everyone getting their own drinks. My kids aren’t quite old enough for that yet, but it’s a good idea to remember. (and your comment wasn’t long at all!!!) 🙂

  19. I totally agree. Really, on weeknights, the dinner table is the only time we’re all together each day. And I also agree with having things be a little “polished”. Although I don’t pull it off every night, I really want our dinner presentation, and table to be a beautiful place to sit down. My mother was really good at this and I try to do the same.

  20. when we moved into this house i thought i’d become a dining room eater, but instead we just put a big farm table in the kitchen–both for more eating space, and because I have no counter space. I’d KILL for an island! I’ve been begging for one for quite awhile.

    And we have a running joke that dan always disappears RIGHT when we sit down. It never fails. He’s always last to the table, too. 🙂

  21. I can’t believe it. You just described our situation exactly. We have the same trouble. Now that our older two (we have four) are 7 and 5 I sometimes get them to get their own drink and silverware or set the table. I like putting it on the table also, bc someone always wants more of something and its nice to have it all right there.

  22. Emma sets the table too, but not often enough, probably. My biggest problem is that I’m usually dealing with her “hungry grumpy” phase right before dinner and many times she just needs to be doing something quiet like drawing or reading, until she gets fed! 🙂

  23. thank you, georgia! I love hearing about families with older children, because i can hear a little of what I have to look forward to! And I love that you want your kids to eat “British style”–what’s the alternative? I’ve never heard that saying before. 🙂

  24. …right now, I dish up things from the counter; our in-kitchen table is just way too small. I would like to switch to family-style when we have more children and a bigger table 🙂

    a HOT tip 😉 :if you can be bothered, stick the plates in the oven to heat them up before serving, then you don’t have to worry as much about food getting cold immediately. obviously, cold plates for younger children is a little more reasonable 🙂

  25. We eat family style at the table. My girls are usually chomping at the bit and want to sit at the table as soon as I set it so I have to be careful not to set the table too early. I also have to remember to cool off the girls meals before calling them to the table or they get antsy looking at food that they can’t eat. Generally that time before supper is chaos for us as well.

  26. not only does the oldest (7) in our house have to set the table, but also let the younger one “help” him. all drinks have to be at the table, a gallon of milk on the table is unattractive but better than all the jumping up for more.

  27. We’re very similar. 🙂 I have a teeny tiny galley kitchen with zero counter space, but I have four under the age of six (soon to be five under that age in July). And I can so relate to your description. With the last month or so I’ve found that having a healthy snack or another (like dried banana chips or that golden/dark raisin mix) on the table that they can munch at has really sort of helped with the whiny stuff. They don’t eat enough to spoil their appetite, and it’s blissfully quiet so I can think through the dinner process! Before this they would be whining around my knees and ankles as I was trying to move through it all. So we tend towards buffet style off the oven, I guess? I see nightmares if I brought it to the table, especially if James was just walking in the door. Somebody would eat all the mashed potatoes or something straight out of the pan while we were getting settled. 🙂 he he he

  28. we have tried every which way and what usually works best for us is family style at the table. I ask about drinks before I sit down, and once I sit then they’re out of luck. Some meals, like taco night, lend themselves more to buffet style. We have a long island, so I’ll set everything out in a row and we dish ourselves. I do find that as I’m getting drinks, sometimes, some people will have already finished before I even sit down. When that happens, the offender has to sit and wait and talk with us until everyone is done.

    I’m having the kids set the table more, and clear the table. It’s time for them to start taking on the dish duties.

  29. My best trick for easing up the pre-dinner chaos is to have my son set the table well before we are ready to eat. He is 4 1/2, and has been doing this as his meal-time responsibility for about a year or so. Of course, we help as needed, but it helps to have him take care of that part, so that I can be sure that I don’t forget that bread is in the oven!

    He puts everything out (typically directly from the dishwasher, which helps me unload as well), including napkins, utensils, salt & pepper, butter, etc. He even fixes the drinks, which is made much simpler by having a water dispenser on the door of our fridge.

    Also, Molly, a good solution to the pre-dinner grumpiness maybe “appetizers.” Nothing fancy, but maybe you set out some veggies and hummus 30 minutes prior to dinner. Your daughter can set the table & snack at the same time (take a plate to the table, and grab a carrot). We do this periodically to help keep the whining under control. It also helps because my son could take the gold medal for the world’s slowest eater. Anything that helps him get good food in him is fair game in our house!

  30. We are mostly family style but since the urchins still need help with serving themselves and cutting I often put their food on their plates before I call them. Also, this helps their food cool since they don’t like eating anything too hot. Both of them help set the table sometimes but not every night. When I was young one of us had the job to set the table and another had the job to clear. I think I should start doing that with mine.

  31. For the most part we go with family style. We have only one child (so far); he is almost 2 1/2. Generally I get things on the table and serve the boy first (or dish up his food to cool while we are getting settled). Then it’s pretty much a free-for-all! We take turns helping the boy with seconds, etc. We each get our own drink and my husband makes sure to get a sippy cup for the boy. I’m sure it will be more complicated when we have more children!

  32. My guys set the table while I’m cooking. The first one to come in the kitchen whining about how hungry they are or squealing “when is it going to be READY???” usually gets that job.Then the next fella is in charge of drinks, carrying butter and bread to the table, getting the candles down, etc. They help with the cooking a lot too. The rule in our house is either stay out of the kitchen until you’re called or roll up your sleeves and help – no standing around making things difficult or talking to me about pokemon or legos.We all sit together, and no one eats until everyone is seated and grace has been said. Then we serve family style and spend the rest of the meal saying things like, “lean over your plate.” “Just try it, you might like it” and “please, no bathroom humor at the table.”When we’re done everyone clears their own plate, anyone who didn’t help with prep helps carry the rest of the stuff to the counter. Mama and Daddy put it all up and load the dishwasher while they wipe down counters and sweep up. Or, if it’s been a particularly challenging meal, we send just ’em outside, pour another glass of wine and crank up the radio 🙂

  33. No matter what we do, we manage to shock my in-laws! 😉 When we were newly married up until our 2nd child started eating with us we ate on our coffee table in front of the TV. (Bad, bad, bad, I know.) Now with five of us we eat at the kitchen table but it’s mainly serve yourself. Everyone gets their own plate, silverware, cup, etc. and then dishes out their own food, typically right out of the pan on the stove. We eat a lot of one dish meals but when we have sides we sometimes set those out on the table. I have to be careful about that though since I have a tendency to “pick” at the food on the table after I’m done eating, a big no no if I want to keep my weight down!

    It can get hectic but we make it work for 2 family meals every day.

  34. Our family is small and my husband is never home for weekday meals when my son and I need to eat. So, we do our family time meal at breakfast. We each eat something different and cooperate in getting everything ready, but we are all together. We sit at the peninsula counter in the kitchen between the kitchen and dining rooms and chat about the day before and the day to come.

    At dinner on the weekends we try to all eat together in the dining room. Since our family is small and our dining room is adjacent to the kitchen we serve plates in the kitchen, take them to the table and then usually run back and forth a few times getting things we forgot. Sometimes more trouble than it’s worth, but I like it.

  35. We usually serve the main dish right from the stove onto plates and put side dishes on the table — veggies, bread, etc. I like my girls (4 and 6) to have some experience with serving themselves and I am always hoping they will have seconds of veggies!

    The girls also alternate weekly setting the table/arranging the centerpiece and helping with clearing the table/washing dishes.

    I loved get a glimpse into what other families do too! Thanks! 🙂

    Amy @ Let’s Explore

  36. It’s neat you are teaching your kids a specific style, something that is a cultural fit. A friend of mine took a class (at work, as a team-building – quite a different subject for a team-building!) on eating Continental style. Now we all do it when it makes the meal easier. Feels posh! 😉

  37. We dish our plates at the island and then sit down. My older kids dish their own plates so they are responsible for what is on their plate and can’t blame me that they can’t eat it all. 🙂

  38. We do a little of both at our house. I generally dish the kids plate a little early (so it cools longer). Our table is small so some stuff (like the salad) comes to the table and the big pot of- whatever is left on the stove. My husband and I tag team the prep of the table before we call my girls (3 and 6) to dinner. And we usually wait for someone or end up carrying the 3 year old in because she just can’t put the book down…

  39. Growing up, my mom used to set out the dinnerware on the counter before cooking dinner and then call me in to set the table while she was cooking. Then she’d bring everything to the table family style. She’d even put the salsa and sour cream into little serving bowls. Too cute.

    Now we usually serve up plates and pass them out. Our pre-dinner time is bananas too. Our oldest is 4 and he’s starting to help set the table, but our 2 year old usually destroys whatever the 4 year old sets up which means screaming and tears.

    Maybe you could keep a container of five spoons, forks, knives and napkins out on the counter or table all day and have your girls set the table for you? And maybe just fill up a pitcher of water and let everyone serve themselves water?

  40. We eat family style here, too, on most nights. It’s just easier to have everything out on the table. Placemats & cloth napkins, real plates. Anyone and everyone helps set the table, even the three year old. Drinks are something I often forget, but we mostly get them for ourselves. Inevitably there are already drinks around anyway — we just place them on the table. We wait until everyone is done eating before anyone can leave… Jay is good about clearing the table and sorting the dishwasher, since I am usually the one who prepared dinner. (unless he’s grilling — yay, summertime!) Sometimes I set the table during the day, too, if I have a moment and I remember… that saves some time. (But it does help that we don’t use that table for homework or anything… )

  41. Every supper time we sit down together and eat. We say grace and the grown ups help the little ones, so I guess this is family style. I don’t know how to do it any other way…we are a family, after all!

  42. In our house, the cook plates the dinner – no extra serving dishes to do! My 5-year-old sets out the silverware and napkins, then carries over each person’s plate/bowl (we help here to keep it from being too slow – and we carry it if it’s hot sloshy soup). Meanwhile, the non-cook adult gets drinks settled. Works for us!

    Love your blog! Thanks for sharing!

  43. We’re buffet eaters, it’s nice to have a clear table without food cluttering it up so we can focus on conversations and such…we also end up eating less, too!

  44. I keep our meals really simple, so there isn’t a lot to put on the table.

    Entree (Roasted Chicken)2 vegetables (Roasted Potatoes and broccoli)

    That’s it!

    Because my kids are older, I get one of them to pour drinks or set the table AND…I let them watch “Arthur” at 5:30 each night and they are captivated while I do the rest. I know, horror of horrors…but PBS isn’t all that bad and that’s all their TV for the day (usually 😉 )

    I like having the table set with food, drinks, plates, etc. b/c in my mind, we are taking time to sit…be still…and make dinner an event, no matter how simple the meal may be. I also believe this IS the perfect time to teach manners, something totally I see lacking with adults.

    Good luck!

  45. My girls range from 14 to 7 and take it in turns to help set the table.That involves placing the cutlery and glasses then filling the juice jug. I usually ask one of them to help me plate up and take the plates to the table and someone gets to ring the dinner bell.Yep we have a bell as I got so fed up with shouting everyones name! It’s a bit like Pavlovs dog as soon as they hear that bell they know there’s food. Even hubby!!!I try to get each girl involved with food preparation at least once a week each.It works really well and in fact the older girls are competant enough to make a whole meal independantly.Maybe once a month or so they actually prepare menus and do the shopping for meals they actually cook. Such luxury I can tell you!Everyone stays at the table until they are excused and clears their own plate to the dishwasher.If we have visitors then we serve food in lidded tureens at the table and let everyone help themselves.That way the food stays hotter longer and people get to chose what they like.We have a rule that if you serve yourself you have to eat it all but if you are served then it can be negotiable.All that said mealtimes are still my least favourite times of the day.I think the timing is so crucial.Otherwise I find they are either not hungry enough or too hungry and either option isn’t good for a pleasant mealtime. My repeating comment is “This is not a chimps tea-party” I’m pretty certain that my girls will recite that as something they remember me always saying!

  46. When our dining room table doesn’t have grow lights and seedlings on it, we eat there. Right now we are eating in our living room all sitting on the floor around our coffee table. =)

  47. Oh I forgot to say that my mealtimes got so much better when we got coloured cutlery.Each child has their own colour and knows exactly where to sit when they come to the table.

  48. It’s pretty chaotic around here. I fix plates + drinks for the girls and then Chris and I get our own plates. Once in a while I get Elise to help with napkins + silverware, but not very often. I don’t think we’re quite ready for family style at the table. Charlotte likes to throw anything within arm’s reach. And Chris is always the last to sit down, too — what is with these men? 🙂 We try to talk about our days during dinner, but are frequently unable to hear over Charlotte. This is just how it is for now!

  49. *Great* question! We always eat at the table, and in the summer we eat on the back patio (there are no mosquitos in Colorado 🙂 I typically fix everyone’s plates and pass them out or use a tray to carry them out back, or we do family style if we’re grilling. I see a lot of benefit to going family style, but there are more dishes, which I’m about at my limit of :)On Sunday nights we watch Star Trek together and have bread/cheese/fruit/ham/smoked salmon/salami/etc (‘snack-os’), so I suppose that this is our exception to always eating at the table.

    All that said, I seem to have raised myself three children who believe that their main task in life is to remain as near to me as possible, so this complicates things. One rule that we have that has helped is that you can have a few baby carrots for a snack anytime, even two minutes before dinner. It really cut the whining, and if they’re going to eat anything rather than cleaning their dinner plate I’d want it to be carrots 🙂

  50. No matter how we do it, I am always bouncing up and down like a yo-yo, fetching people things. That’s why the kitchen table wins over the dining room one every time.

  51. I have my 6 year old set the table, Dad gets drinks,I bring in the food with some help from them if needed.If the menu requires a longer wait, I have a small “platter” of veg with dip in the fridge they can bring in and nibble on while they wait.This helps hubs and child eat more veg as well. 😉

  52. ‘Round here I have a big triangle that hangs in the hall. You know, the “come and get it” kind. When the dinner bell rings, you hear 3 sets of feet racing down the stairs. The girls (3 and 8) have to set the table. The 3 year old gets all the silverware and the 8 year old gets the glasses and napkins. The 13 year old gets the pitcher of water that stays on the table. All this happens as I am dishing out food. No one eats until everyone sits. No one leaves until they have told a story… their choice, fact or fiction. When everyone is finished, each kid helps clear the entire table. Then the 13 year old washes up, unless his dad is being nice and does it for him. And on Sundays, the 13 year old has to cook.

    Dang, I sound a bit rigid, huh?

  53. we sit at the table. we try to sit and just take a deep breath or say a mealtime prayer… i have a 4 year old and two year old. my eldest sets the table and my youngest patiently waits at the table.. =) i usually start off with the kids and then the grown up plates and then drinks– if they get remembered before someone says their thirsty. we usually do buffet style when we have large family gatherings.

  54. it was sheer chaos around here for mealtimes too until i went to visit a waldorf kindergarden classroom and noticed how the teacher dealt with this situation. then i tried it at home and low-and-behold it worked.

    the children help set the table and then off they go to play until they are called to table.

    all the food gets put in the center of the table — covered up. don’t let your family see the food at first. even if you just cover it up with a napkin, it creates the idea that we don’t dig in until all are seated.

    i call my family in with a little bell. it beats shouting for everyone. they come running and salivating like pavlovs dogs everytime now… he he

    we light a candle in the centre of the table then hold hands and say a blessing first and then the food is uncovered and we fill our plates and eat all together.

    i found that doing it the other way — putting food on the individual plates and serving it that way — i never got to eat with my family. they would start eating without me. and half the time the blessing got forgotten.

    this works for us; maybe it will work for some of you too.


  55. Molly, I love when you do these posts – I learn so much!

    Sometimes we serve in the kitchen and sometimes at the table. It really depends on the meal and how crazy things are at the moment. I prefer serving family style, though.

    My boys are 12, 10 and 8 and right now, the youngest sets the table with the 10 year old gets drinks. The oldest is usually finishing homework right before dinner so he clears.

    Our rule is that no one eats until everyone is seated and grace has been said. Sometimes someone will get excited or anxious and try to sneak a bite or 2 before it’s time but a gentle elbow to the ribs from a brother takes care of that! lol

  56. Great question! When my boys were younger we used to serve the plates straight from the stove. I would put small amounts of food on their plate, add ketchup if necessary and pass the plates along. Now that they are a bit older I’m more fond of family style meals. Large plates, platters and bowls placed on the table and everyone helps themselves. I find this method has also resulted in my kids trying foods they didn’t think they would like, as they see everyone else reach into a bowl, so the do as well. My kids take turns setting the table so they ask what’s for dinner and what’s needed and I tell them. The set out glasses, water jug, condiments etc and I bring the platters of food to the table. It seems to work out great and even though it does make for a few extra dishes I don’t mind at all.

  57. Hmm…we eat restaurant style. I have a 6,4 and 1 year old. It is easier for me to dish out the food in the kitchen and bring full plates to the table. The negative is that I am then continually popping up to get a forgotten item or more food. I never seem to have it together with drinks, but we are working on it. My husband was always late to the table, so I started “calling” dinner earlier. Now everyone is chomping at the bit, because I am not “quite” ready. Oh well, we will find our happy medium…

  58. i like family style and i’m personally a big fan of buffet because the way i like to eat is small piles.

    truth be known, we eat in shifts – i feed my kid and then we eat when my husband gets home later.

    he always calls me to the table too early, it drives me a bit batty and he thinks my lollygagging is even more infuriating. (-;

  59. We usually have a family style dinner, although once a week that usually disintegrates into everyone grazing all night. Who ever is cooking (we split cooking in our house) makes dinner and sets it out. We all sit until the last person is done, and talk (although A is allowed to sit on one of our laps when he’s done eating). The biggest chaos we have is not having the right utensil and condiments. Some dinners I feel like a jumping bean. We have all these lofty goals for what our meals should be like but mainly it is a time to reconnect after the day, also eat breakfast together). We eat dinner fairly late so we’ve started having “Tea” at around 3 or 4 to take the edge off of hunger while we cook, A helps with the cooking. The only rules we keep to are no reading at the table, no feet on the table, and you have to try a little of everything before having something different (as in yogurt and granola Mama will not cook second meals.)

  60. I laughed out loud when I read this blog! I, too am guilty of calling in the troops too soon. My children are young enough that their food still needs to cool down much more than the adult’s plates= that’s my biggest problem. But for that reason I always dish out my children’s plates first and put them at their seats. Just as I’m dishing up my husband’s plate I call them in.BUT- I have found that the problem isn’t necessarily how it’s served- family or buffet style, but just the meal itself. SIMPLIFY. We do a lot of one dish meals. If the kids have had plenty of healthy snacks throughout the day I may not have a hot vegetable to serve them at dinner. And as much as I try to have variety in my menu planning, I’ve learned that kids (and husbands) have their favorites and they don’t mind repeats.

  61. My husband and I both cook, sometimes together, sometimes we take turns. It depends on how inspired/hungry/tired/cranky we are at the tail end of a long day.

    I tend to be the one to set the table because it’s one of the few quiet tasks I have during family time. We bring all the food to the table & I “plate” for the kids while the older two kid get drinks for themselves & the littler one. No one eats until I’ve had a chance to sit down, fill my own plate & say “Bon Apptit!” — they don’t always wait (especially if Dad’s made french fries), but that’s the rule.

    During dinner everyone gets a chance to tell the highlights from their day. Dinner at our house is loud, chaotic, and wonderful.

    We do have a few dinner rules:

    “You have to try” — it’s ok if you don’t like lamb, or mushrooms, or whatever, but you have to try it first (without making a face!). Tastes change over time & you might find you like something now that you didn’t before — or vice versa.

    We don’t leave the table until every one is done eating. Some people are slower eaters than others … or chattier. (You may be excused to go to the loo, but you have to come back after washing your hands).

    We don’t interrupt each others’ stories. Even if you know why Pluto is no longer a planet, you still let your younger sibling tell the family about this exciting new bit of knowledge.

    LOL. I think I might be a dinner tyrant!

  62. What a terrific question! I love reading what every one does. I cook everything and plate it all. David usually is getting home right at that moment. He changes. I get the girls to get their cups and bring them to me to fill. then they take them to the table and sit. David comes in and gets our drinks and silverware. I plate all the food and don’t serve everyone until all plates are ready. Then we take them to the table to eat. For the most part it goes pretty smoothly. If David is working later, I will let the girls snack on a couple of carrots or something so they aren’t ravenous beasts at supper.

  63. Thank you. 🙂 Isn’t it funny as her alias? We didn’t know the sex of the baby and wouldn’t reveal our possible names, driving my mother nuts. Early on I said the baby was as big as a lentil and it stuck.

  64. I thought I’d ask my husband his opinion (he doesn’t mind the bottles but likes the dishes). Mister is relaying an early date story in which I came out with “a platter of little dishes” to serve with hamburgers. He said it was one of the things about me that charmed him. My mother will be thrilled to learn that her table etiquette landed me a husband!

  65. We’ve recently started serving at the stove versus the table as a way to be more mindful of our portions. My husband and I were finding that we ate way more than we wanted to when the yummy food was sitting out in front of us, rather than back in the kitchen (our house is very tiny, and so we eat in the living/dining room, away from the kitchen). This has worked well for us for the last few months, and we’ve also switched to smaller plates (‘lunch plates” versus “dinner plates”) which also helps us eat smaller portions. The added benefit of this is that we are very aware of what our daughter is/is not eating!

  66. At comment number 72 you may have had your fill of table routines but I thought I would offer mine becuase it might help you. Setting the table has been one of my children’s earliest chores. From 2 1/2 yrs my eldest has attempted it (with help at this age). They are now responsible for placemats, cutlery, napkins and their drinks. They are also responsible for clearing it (and I mean all of it!) They negotiate between themselves who does what, they just know it is their responsibility.I would have to say that the fifteen minutes before dinner is the most stressfull time of my day, this makes it a little easier.

  67. I serve the food onto the plates from the stove or counter before I bring the plates to the table. Some things, like bread, salt & pepper, condiments, I set on the table. My children help me set the table, but ultimately, I’m the one to take final stock of what is there or not there. I get very frustrated if I need to hop up and get something that has been forgotten, especially these days, when I’ve already got a baby in my arms or at the breast during dinner, anyway. I also once read a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh that was to the effect that one should always set the table with enough mindfulness that nothing needs to be gotten in the middle of the meal. I guess it’s that whole “take the time to do it right in the first place” thing. So, that’s what I strive for. Though, sometimes, the table is piled so hight with stuff — baby gifts that still need thank you notes written, for example, that we end up eating at the coffee table or something. So, I have the way that I strive for, the way it usually work when things are going well — and they way that things sometimes go when I’m not organized or ‘together’. A bit of this, a bit of that. Nothing is perfect. 😉

  68. I know this question is from a while back but I just found you today…so anyway…

    I have “a just turned 5 year old” and he has set the table since he was about 3. My husband gets the drinks and anything I have forgotten that comes straight from the fridge (ketchup etc…). Then I serve the food from pans, straight to the plates. This is easiest for us since my Type 1 diabetic husband needs all his food measured for his insulin pump use. I do not find myself jumping up a lot like some have commented but maybe that is because of our circumstances (diabetes and a young one who barely eats at dinner time! He is a lunch guy!)

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