Toddler Dinners: The Mann Table Rules

So this week in toddler meal world I thought I would divulge a few of our table rules. It may just be luck of the draw with the kid but maybe you will have a light bulb moment or know of a similar way rules help you kids. We are heavy proponents of routines. K and I are both very analytical. Hell, we are engineers in the purest form. We love structure. And not to be all “my kid will conform..blah blah blah”, he thrives on it too. He asks for nap. Bedtime is like clock work. He is even trained to put his toys down when we pull off the exit to daycare after many mornings of tears over not taking them into daycare. We have regressions but we just stick to our guns and he is back in the swing of it. This is also the reason we don’t do a lot of routine changes. Late nights. After school activities. Activities during naptime. Maybe we are fuddiduddies but we don’t like losing sleep. 🙂

Our dinner routine has changed over time. He used to need to eat pretty early on as an infant but now we can hold him off to get a family dinner on the table most of the time around 6 PM. So currently it goes like this

5:00pm: we get home and start distractions. We go outside. We play cars in the kitchen. Wrestle. Tea party. Color. Read.

5:30pm: We might start hearing he is hungry. (He doesn’t say hungry..he still signs and says “uh uh”). We tell him it is coming. Whining ensues. We look for a new activity. Pinterest has saved my ass here many a time.

6:00pm: Dinner on the table. Now during dinner there are certain things expected.

  • Rule #1: If he wants more of something, he has to say please AND eat more of his other foods. I think this addresses some questions about them eating only the fruit and wanting more and nothing else. This didn’t happen over night. We just keep doing it. This is when I started getting over the “o he will be hungry” feeling. If he wouldn’t eat other bites, he was done. End of discussion. Now all I have to say is “If you would like more raisins, you need to have some more bites of chicken, peas, and cheese”. Usually works like a charm.
  • Rule #2: If a fit is imminent, we take everything away. We avoid throwing food this way. This is where I am fan of high chairs. He can’t go anywhere. My kid…he has anger issues. When he isn’t getting his way, he goes ape shit. When it is bad enough, he has to get down and go to time out. He avoids this at all costs. We say “would you like to finish you dinner or go to timeout?”. He starts scrambling for that plate.
  • Rule #3: You have to wait for mommy and daddy to finish before you can get down. we are still working on this one. Some nights, he plows through his food and we are still eating. We are trying to teach patience but it isn’t always working. Work in progress.
  • Rule #4: No TV until after dinner. This was a big break through for us. First off, letting him watch TV and then trying to get him to the table was a pain. Tantrum city. Second, it is incentive. He knows that when he finishes his dinner, he can watch 20-30 minutes of TV. This seems to really motivate him and serve as a constant reminder. “You can’t watch TV until you eat all your chicken and veggies”. Some call it bribing, I call it surviving.

So what are your mealtime rules? Here is our week in toddler meals…

Toddler Dinners is my weekly series of posts to explore the world of feeding munchkins. Each Monday I will post our previous week’s meals and a rating on how they went as well as discuss numerous issues we all face. Find out more here.

Also be sure to follow me along throughout the week with your creations on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #toddlerdinners.


  1. We’re still working on your Rule #3 too 🙂 If he gets to fidgety then I’ll let him get down (he’s not in a high chair or booster anymore), but he can’t leave the room, he has to play with the toys he was playing with while we were cooking dinner. I’m also a stickler on the manners, a bit of a drill sargent actually. We still have trouble with veggies but overall he’s a good eater!

  2. Now that my boys are old enough, we have the one bite rule. There is always something on their plate they have to try before they get down.

    We also count for bad manners (since they are old enough). Playing with food, banging things, interrupting when someone is talking… all part of 123 magic for us.

    And only one person can talk at the table at a time. Otherwise it gets crazy.

  3. We use a lot of those same rules. Please and thank you are a must, and we’ll ask her to ask again nicely if she omits please. She also knows she can’t leave the table until we’re all finished. She also can’t have a treat (mini ice cream sandwich, mini ice cream cone from TJ’s, yogurt raisins, TJ’s chocolate cat cookies are a few regulars) unless she’s eaten most of her dinner, and has at least tried everything (and those aren’t every night, just a few times a week). If she starts fooling around, making a mess, playing, whatever–we take her plate away and her dinner is over. She still has to wait for us, and we’ll give her her plate back if she asks nicely, or she just has to sit quietly. Most of the time, dinner runs smoothly!

  4. We instated a “no toys in the high chair” rule as soon as we started him on solids. Even if he wasn’t eating, if he was in his high chair he wasn’t allowed to have toys. It’s made it really easy to get him to leave his toys when I call him for dinner, but I have no idea how to get him to sit in his high chair until we’re finished eating without him losing his mind. It makes it so difficult when we go out to eat in a restaurant because he is generally finished eating before us. & he very rarely finishes everything on his plate. It’s definitely a work in progress. Something new I’m trying with regards to throwing food is that I won’t start making him any more food until he’s picked up the food he threw at the previous meal. He doesn’t have a tantrum when he throws food, he just picks it up & casually launches it onto the floor. Sometimes we don’t even notice he’s doing it. We used to make a big deal out of it & make him pick it up before he was allowed to play, but that just became a power struggle & everyone ended up frustrated. Love these posts!

  5. Our only sticking rule at this point is “Sit your tail down and eat, sucka.”

    R’s almost five and hardheaded. He does whatever he wants…or attempts to,anyway.

  6. I found your blog from Heir to Blair and am really enjoying it! Thanks for the ideas!

    My little guy just turned 2, so #3 is definitely a challenge. We have a little bag of cars and trains that we bring to restaurants, and we’ve started letting him play with them at the table after he’s done eating as well. So, now instead of just saying “all done” and trying to get done, he asks for his “cars and choo-choos.” Not a perfect solution, but it teaches him that it’s important to stay at the table and gives him something to do. As he gets older and can sit longer, we’ll move on to something else!

    • Welcome! BA is a good pimp ;). Yeah we take things to restaurants to keep him busy. It isn’t fair to him to be held up when food takes time there or something. Great tips mama!

  7. Love your site – great tips! My daugther is only 18 months, so our only rule right now is that we all eat dinner together at the table (she is in a booster after a massive high chair rejection last month). She also gets what my hubby and I eat for dinner. The biggest complication is she is starving after daycare, so I usually give her appetizers while I cook if she is hungry. I make them healthy so I don’t have to freak if she doesn’t have much appetite left for dinner. My general rule is that snacks should be just as healthy as meals. So, for an appetizer, she might have applesauce, peas & carrots, greek yogut, cucumbers & tomatoes, cheese, or fruit. I try to stay away from crackers as they fill her up too much and don’t have any health benefits.

    I also involve her in the cooking process as much as possible. She has assembled lasagna before, stirred things with my supervision, and been my taste tester. I also have her smell different ingredients, like garlic, spices/herbs, etc – which she thinks is very fun. We also check the oven together a lot, which she loves to do. I think that getting kids involved in the cooking process helps a lot. Even to the point that I take her grocery shopping, and we discuss the fruits and veggies we are buying.

    So for now, we are more establishing that eating good food is part of a lifestyle, and it’s fun. It’s less about rules, and more about enjoying it. She loves being at the table with us, but sometimes is just not in the mood for what I have cooked. That is the harder part that I am dealing with now.

    • Thanks! I have a post on my list about teaching your toddler to cook. I need to brave that world for documentation. We have been learning foods at the farmer’s market. Great stuff.

  8. We have the opposite problem to number 3. My kids must be the slowest eaters ever. We have family dinner at the table 90% of the time. My kids get distracted. They want to tell me about their days (I work full time, my husband works part time, the kids are in daycare half the time and stay at home with my hubby the other half of the time). They are too busy talking to actually put food in their mouth. I eat while they are talking and finish my meal up to 30mins before the kids finish. I want to sit with them, but I see the dirty dishes on the sink, and the washing that needs to be hung on the line. I don’t want them scarfing down their food, but I also don’t want to be sitting at the table for 2 hours while they take 5 minutes to eat one piece of macaroni! Any suggestions?

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