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Family Dinners Rule.

Dinner Table It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago we were only just starting to get into the habit of family dinners with Elsa and Clio. Back at the beginning, it was all we could do to get them to keep their butts in their seats and refrain from spitting out the “yucky” food we were putting on their plates. (With the move to the family table, we also began more aggressively introducing new foods beyond the kid-friendly ones they’d eaten for dinner until then: Mac-n-cheese, fake chicken nuggets, and pretty much anything beige or white, not counting cauliflower and flounder. Which I don’t like either, frankly.)

Now, five months later, the girls’ table manners have markedly improved, and they love to “help” set the table. (Who says napkins should be folded? Or that four is the proper number of placemats for four people? Why not line them all up — all eight of them — so that they cover nearly the entire table?)

Best of all, the girls have gotten much better about trying new foods. We’re not militant about it, but we do encourage them to take a bite of whatever’s unfamiliar or appears to be “yucky stuff” as Clio calls it. Before we remind her that no food is yucky; there are foods you like and foods you don’t care for. Of course, if I ever served, say, liver, and she called it “yucky” I’d think she was completely justified. Which is why I would never serve liver. Or monkey brains.

Quinoa, black beans, tuna casserole, chicken stir fry, and even pork chops have been successfully added to the menu. (Although Clio insists that the pork is chicken. Hey, whatever.) Elsa has been known to be even more adventurous in her culinary exploits, going so far as to sample asparagus, shrimp, and mushrooms. And we now know to add extra tomatoes to the salad on her behalf.

We’ve got a good dessert system down now, too: school days (Mon-Wed-Fri) are non-dessert days, because we usually put a Fig Newton or handful or Teddy Grahams or something in the girls’ lunch. On non-dessert nights, they can have fruit. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, they can have a popsicle or cookie or whatever “special” dessert we may have available. It works for us.

In fact — and I’m sort of marveling at this even as I write it — our family dinner has become one of my favorite parts of the day. I always like to ask the girls what their favorite part of the day was. Usually the answer is something concerning food — the snack they had at school, or the waffles they ate for breakfast. But occasionally it’s something juicier — how they got to be the line leader at school, or how they made cookies with the babysitter. Oh, wait. That’s food again.

They’ve also been telling a lot of jokes lately at dinner — and in general — and this is pure awesomeness, even if the term “joke” is a bit of  stretch. Sometimes they’re more like Zen koans: “Why does the witch go to Halloween? Because she’s a real witch!” (child cracks up at own comic genius) or, a recent fave that I posted on the Baby Squared Facebook page, from Clio, “Why did the giraffe go to college? Because he’s a silly giraffe!” Too true.

But neither top my all-time favorite, from Elsa: “Knock knock. Who’s there? Cinderalla’s butt!” Technically, this is potty talk, and technically we have a rule against potty talk at the table. But sometimes you just gotta let it slide.

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