The amount of insistence I place on my kids coming to the table quickly and eating politely is directly proportional to the amount of effort I put into making the meal. This is neither a good nor a bad thing. It is simply useful information. Low effort meals mean I’m less emotionally invested in the reaction to the meal. There is value in both the effort-ful family dinner and the fix-it-for-yourself free range evenings. Our family should probably work toward having more focused meals and less free range. Balance is good.
I would probably feel differently about this if the act of preparing meals and feeding children was inherently rewarding to me. My grandmother expresses love through cooking and feeding. In contrast, I would be quite happy if we could finally come up with those Jetson-style meal replacement pills so that I only had to fix food when I felt like it. This undoubtedly explains why I’m willing to stock the freezer with Hot Pockets, which are the closest thing I’ve found to those Jetson meals. There are times I enjoy cooking, but mostly it is a thing I have to do rather than something I want to do. I’m very glad that my kids are old enough to fix for themselves rather than always needing me to do it. I do harbor some guilt and worry that I’m letting them form terrible eating habits, but I suspect they’re happier free-ranging than they would be having a mother who provided three meals a day with a side-order of resentment.
When I get home, I plan to create a schedule where each of the kids is in charge of fixing the food one day per week. I suspect that it will suffer the fate of most of my similar plans. It will work for awhile and then fall apart. Then I’ll scrape up the pieces, add in knowledge of what worked and what didn’t, to create a new iteration of The Dinner Plan. After years of similar iterations we have a functioning dish washing schedule. We’re due for a new iteration of the chore schedule, so adding a dinner schedule already fits with established family patterns. There will be moaning and groaning when I unveil it. That too is according to established family patterns.
Another thing I’ve noticed about dinner, when the kids help fix it, they’re more likely to eat it. Also they’re less likely to spurn food when they’ve had the experience of cooking something and having a sibling complain about it. It will take parental effort to get the ball rolling, but it is likely to be effort well spent.