Raising a Polite, Appreciative Diner (in 10,000 Easy Steps)

9.29.09: Leo's 16th month


Tonight, our little family of three ate dinner together. We dined at the cosmopolitan hour of half past five. An hour later, after I’d tucked Leo in, I came back into the dining room and noticed that the floor looked like, well, dinner. And that Aaron and I had left nearly untouched glasses of Sancerre on the table. I think we ate, but it was sort of a blur.

From a certain perspective, dinner was a great success. I meant to make a cheesy, kid-friendly sweet potato risotto, but realized part-way in we were out of risotto rice. So I subbed in barley, which is probably healthier anyway. I cooked the kale from our CSA box to put on top (Leo’s was minced and added to his risotto to ensure its acceptance). I’m proud to say we all loved this simple, wholesome dinner. And I’d like to say I’ll be doing it again tomorrow night. But tomorrow we won’t be home until exactly Leo’s dinner time, and, frankly, I just finished cleaning the floor. I’m tired. Tomorrow Leo may eat scrambled eggs for dinner. Or frozen ravioli.

Ah well, it’s a start. We eat a hot homemade breakfast together many days. (We freeze multigrain pancakes and waffles after making them on the weekend.) It’s nice because Leo is quietly ravenous at breakfast. Aaron and I have entire conversations without remembering the small trencherman sitting between us putting away a whole banana and multiple pieces of French toast.

By dinner, however, calm family dining is a figment. No matter how hungry Leo is, he’s also, well, to the outside observer I think the word would be rude. He shouts. Flings food and cutlery. Slams his cup loudly on the table. Shoves food in his mouth, nose and ears. He’s uncouth. One wonders why somebody doesn’t teach the child some manners.

"¨Then one remembers that he’s one’s own child, and one hasn’t a clue how to impress the need for pleasing manners upon a 16 month old. So we catch the flying cutlery and, a few times each meal, suggest if Leo is not eating nicely then perhaps he is all done and should just say so. We’re not terribly effective, and the kid likes to eat so much I have no inclination to turn the table into a battlefield.

It’s funny, because I always figured I’d be the bad cop, since I have no trouble being kind yet firm with other people’s kids. As a babysitter, I was never confused about discipline. But this is my son, and he knows that I will love him and feed him no matter how much he ignores me as I huff and puff about using spoons, not spilling and blah blah blah.

This leaves me with nothing but my one flimsy theory that the best way to instill nice table manners--along with an appreciation for good food--is to eat dinner as a family. I’m just not sure how many years it’s going to take to prove my theory correct.

Sweet Potato-Barley Risotto with Garlicky Kale