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5 Tips for Avoiding Dinnertime Chaos

How To Avoid Dinnertime Chaos -- the busy mom's guide to more enjoyable mealtimes.

Mark it down. February 21, 2016. The day both my kids willingly tried guacamole without conversation, coercion or crying. 

I know. I'm as shocked as you are. 

Our lunch today went like this -- I made ground beef for tacos, a special secret ingredient salsa (I'll be sharing later this week), shredded some cheese, washed some fruit, pulled out a bag of tortilla chips, taco shells and salsa. I realized I had an open container of Sabra guacamole from my lunch yesterday and pulled it out as well, thinking I'd be the only one to eat it. 

I proceeded to set the table in my "new" way (we'll get to that in a minute) and started serving up everyone's plates. I asked "anyone want to try guacamole" thinking "Yeah, over my dead body" and to my surprise they both said "Yeah. I'll try some." 

>>>>>> Insert Shocked Mom Face Standing There Stupidly Wondering What The Heck Just Happened<<<<<

I recovered quickly, didn't acknowledge my shock and spooned a little on everyone's plate. I finished serving, we said the blessing and everyone started eating. 

More shock followed. It was the first thing both my kids tried and my youngest son loved it. He even asked for more. My oldest son (by far the pickiest child I know) ate a few bites, said "it's not too bad" and finished out his meal without complaint. He left about half of what I'd served him, but he didn't complain or whine or ask for anything different. 

Folks, we have come A LONG WAY.

Like, 180 degree difference in only a few months. Like, going from me prepping 3 or 4 different mini-meals and dreading dinner to truly having a *mostly* peaceful drama-free daily gathering around our table. 

If you hear nothing else I'm saying today, hear this -- for frazzled parents tired of mealtime battles, there IS hope. It won't come overnight and it won't always be easy. But it CAN and will get better. You've just got to be willing to be a little flexible, while also a little inflexible. Let me explain. 

I've followed Sally at Real Mom Nutrition for years, even before we became friends. I've always admired her ability to capture the struggles us moms feel feeding our kids, put them into perspective and most importantly, give us license to be imperfect, while aiming high for the health of our kids.

One of the things Sally shared with her readers recently that really resonated with me was her tip for mealtimes that don't cater to everyone's tastes, but do cater to at least one item for everyone. When I first read her post I thought, okay, now THAT is something I can do.

I've never been the mom who could tow a really hard line of "Whatever I serve is what I serve and you can eat it or else," especially if I know  nothing being served will be eaten by my kids. You may think that's just weak of me, but I have a 9 year old who will go without eating night after night if confronted with a table full of food he doesn't like. The notion that "he'll get hungry eventually" has honestly never proven itself true. And I'm sorry, but I just don't want to see my kids refuse to eat dinner night after night.

Life's too short for that. And mom guilt is real.

So for years, I've found myself either having a hungry kid (guilt) or caving to making him a PB&J (more guilt.) But since I started implementing Sally's strategy of "one meal" but making sure that "one meal" had at least "one choice" for everyone, life's been a whole lot easier (and less guilt ridden.) 

But "what" I serve has only been half of the answer to the battle against dinnertime chaos. The rest of the story was written after I read THIS POST by my fellow mom RD, Katie at Mom to Mom Nutrition. When I read Katie's rationale for serving from the table a light went off:

"Let them all see what's available, pick and choose what THEY want, and eliminate wasted food plus the need for running back and forth to the kitchen." Frankly, I'm tired of getting up from the table during dinner!

Coming full circle, I bring you back to today's lunch. It's been months in the making. When we first started this new system, my husband was like "Why do we have so much stuff on the table?" And the boys (especially my oldest) were like "Can't we just have a PB&J?"

And then there's today. Nobody complained. And everyone ate guacamole.

Not every meal is this easy, but we're getting there. If you're struggling to recapture the joy of eating together, there's hope for you too. And just to tug a little at your heartstrings, I share this video with you as a reminder of WHY it's important to eat with your kids. Watch this. You'll be glad you did. 


(Disclosure: I first previewed this video while attending a closed conference partially sponsored by Mars Food, who own Masterfoods brands.)


What did I tell you? Makes you want to eat with your kids right now, right? Well, the good news is you CAN and you can do it without chaos. I'm living proof! 

To help keep these strategies top of mind, I created this quick and easy guide. Start small and work up to these changes. It takes time. But it's worth it. I promise.

And please be sure to tell me what YOU'RE doing at your dinner table to create less chaos!   

How To Avoid Dinnertime Chaos -- the busy mom's guide to more enjoyable mealtimes.

(Note: The recipe below for curried chickpeas is something I would NEVER have thought to serve to my kids a year ago. The point is this -- once you embrace that not everyone has to like everything at the table it opens up a whole new world of possibilities.)

How To Avoid Dinnertime Chaos -- the busy mom's guide to more enjoyable mealtimes by @ReganJonesRD
How To Avoid Dinnertime Chaos -- the busy mom's guide to more enjoyable mealtimes.

Curried Chickpeas in Coconut-Peanut Sauce


3 servings


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can no-salt-added petite diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 cup canned, unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 - 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon crunchy peanut butter
  • Juice of half a lime
  • 3 servings of Hot cooked rice


  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; add onion and sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in chickpeas, tomatoes and next 4 ingredients (through peanut butter). Cover, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in lime juice. Serve over rice.

Click for nutritional information
Calories 414
Carbohydrates 61.3g
Fiber 12.3g
Sugar 5.3g
Fat 15g
Protein 14.7g
Sodium 480mg
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Regan Jones is the Founding Editor and Sponsorship Director of HealthyAperture and is the author of the QUICK FIX KITCHEN Feature - a collection of recipes that focuses on shortcut cooking without shortcut taste. Her recipes largely focus on baked goods and desserts ranging from gluten free to sugar free to slightly indulgent eats for the entire family, but also include easy everyday recipes for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Jones is a registered dietitian and owner the web's most prominent portfolio of dietitian-owned websites, including,, and She is also the host of the podcast, This Unmillennial Life, which was recently named New & Noteworthy on iTunes.
More posts by ReganJonesRD
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