10 mealtime expectations that make you miserable

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Constantly feeling frustrated about cooking and mealtime? It might be your mealtime expectations.  Here’s some common mealtime expectations that you may have and how you can switch the narrative and feel better just by changing your expectations! 

dad and daughter eating pizza happy, text overlay: 10 mealtime expectations that are makng you miserable

I feel like mealtime frustrations is one of the most common topics of conversations among mom playgroups

Dad and daughter at dinner table: text overlay 10 mealtime expectations that make you miserable

It seems like no matter what age the child, there is something super frustrating they are doing. 

Your six year old won’t eat anything and wants to control the menu. 

Your 4-year old won’t stay in their seat. 

Your 1-year old is throwing food. 

If it’s not frustrations about the children it’s frustrations about the process of making meals happen. 

One of my friends said, I actually like cooking but 3 meals and 2 snacks a day? It’s exhausting. 

The crazy thing that I noticed about myself as we discussed all of these different scenarios is that I actually don’t feel super frustrated by mealtime. 

It’s not that my mealtimes go perfectly or even better than my friends.  My 6 year old actually doesn’t eat much and does want to control the menu. 

My 4 year old sometimes spends more time playing in the curtains than sitting at the table. 

The difference is that I know that all of these behaviors are age-appropriate and while frustrating, totally normal. So I don’t stress about them. 

I’m definitely not a mindset expert in everything, but when it comes to food and mealtime I’m pretty good at keeping my thoughts positive and framing them in a way that helps me. 

So what about you? Do you let unrealistic mealtime expectations make you miserable?

Let’s dig into some common mealtime expectations that you might have that you could let go of for more peace at dinner prep time or dinnertime. 

10 mealtime expectations that are making you miserable

A proper meal is perfectly balanced and served hot on a nicely set table

Mealtime looks different for every family, and will likely change over the years.  Meals that are typically served for breakfast can be perfectly balanced and suitable options for dinners.  In my house, we often serve dinner off of the cutting board or in the pot, not in serving dishes. Sometimes we eat on a blanket in the living room.  There is no right or wrong way to serve dinner.  Everyone just needs to be fed. 

As the mom, it’s 100% my responsibility to put dinner on the table

Roles are something to be discussed and assigned as a family.  They will likely change as family responsibilities change (new jobs, etc…) and they should never be assumed. 

Even if dinner is your assigned role in your home and you happen to be a woman there are times that this responsibility will need to be shared for a time or permanently (pregnancy, newborn stage, if you work full or part-time, if you are otherwise unwell).  

There is no shame in asking for help with dinner either permanently or temporarily.  If you don’t have the support you need in your home consider getting help from a meal prep or meal planning service.  

Remember, that your mental health is equally as important as your physical health.  Taking a break from meal prep for a season may be worth it to maintain your sanity. 

Read next: How we share roles and responsibilities in our home

My kids should eat foods that are good for them, prepared for them, and if they liked it once they should always like it

Think of a food that you love? For me it’s pizza.  I’m generally here for it all day every day.  But let’s say you’ve had pizza 4 days in a row.  Are you still going to be thrilled when your partner suggests it for dinner? Probably not. 

Sometimes our kids are happy to eat something for dinner but maybe not super enthused to eat it for lunch again the next day. 

Sometimes they just get tired of it for a season. 

Sometimes they change their mind entirely. 

The only predictable thing is that they are unpredictable. 

It really helps me to accept their ever-changing minds when I consider that I am constantly changing my mind about foods that I prefer as well! 

My kids should sit still and sit quietly at the dinner table until they are finished

This week I took my kids to a restaurant, it was fairly kid-friendly but they’d been out in the sun all day, they had been stimulated all day long which was unusual and I was with my sister and hoping to have a friendly chat while we enjoyed our dinner. 


My kids were seriously on one.  The climax was when my youngest climbed on the back of the booth for the hundredth time, fell down. Screamed, and something I’m not even sure what spilled my soup at the same time.  It was pure chaos. 

Was this experience frustrating? Abso-lutely…but I realized that I had pushed my kids beyond what they were capable of by even bringing them to the restaurant to begin with. 

Let me say, I’m a huge fan of getting kids out of the house and teaching them to behave in public, but after such a stimulating afternoon I should have foreseen the dumpster fire that ensued. 

I didn’t let it consume me with mom guilt, just took quiet notes for next time. 

It’s the same at the dinner table. I’m linking a post to what we can reasonably expect from kids at mealtimes.  Hint: Sitting still at the table isn’t really appropriate until children are MUCH older.  Remember, practicing and creating routines, rules, and enforcing them is absolutely recommended at any age, but this guide will help you know what is even reasonable to expect. 

A “normal” family eats at a certain time, has certain foods, and behaves a certain way

Something about my personality tends to get really fixated on things being “normal”

“My son is still throwing cups.  That can’t be normal.” 

“Why can’t we just eat dinner around the table at 6 pm like a normal family?”

“Is it normal that my 6 year old is still eating with her hands? Gah…”

Guess what? Normal doesn’t matter and there are SO MANY variations of normal. 

If something is a problem, look for solutions, but don’t get fixated on whether or not it’s normal, and if it seems abnormal but isn’t causing any real problems for your children or family, who in the heck cares if it’s normal?

My family will get bored unless I’m constantly changing up the meal plan

As the primary meal provider, you deserve a system and plan that is manageable for you, regardless of what you think your family wants. 

If you feel like you constantly need to be changing up your meal plan to please the masses, consider asking them their preferences. 

You might be surprised what you find out. 

My kids are happiest when they get some kind of say in the meal plan (which actually usually includes a LOT of repetition)

My husband couldn’t care less what we eat, and in fact he’s expressed dissatisfaction when we try too many new things because it usually generates bigger messes and more chaos which he is then expected to help clean up. 

It’s totally fine to only cycle through a few meals, especially when your life is otherwise crazy.  Save the new or special for simple times!

Meal plans are for complicated or rigid menus

So many moms think they can’t figure out how to meal plan for a number of reasons. 

Some moms think it’s too rigid and they don’t want to decide in advance what they are eating.  Others think it’s complicated and they will spend too much time cooking. 

A meal plan though is really nothing more than what it sounds like.  A plan of meals.  Monday: Chic-fil-a Tuesday: Cold Cereal Wednesday: Pizza  Thursday: PB&J Friday: Tacos out is a meal plan. 

So if you are new to meal planning, practice just simply planning what you’re going to eat for a week without making any more complicated than what you are eating now.  If you feel like choosing days is too rigid, don’t.  Just buy a week’s worth of meals, make a list, and cross them off as you make them. 

Don’t let your pre-conceived ideas of what meal planning is like stop you from trying to make it work for your family. 

Meal prep is for fitness junkies, is boring, or always tastes like leftovers

I thought meal prep wasn’t for families for the longest time.  It seemed like only my friends who were trying to bulk up or lose all the pounds were the ones doing it. 

Because of this I didn’t consider it a solution for my family mealtimes for a long time. 

I was totally wrong though.  It’s absolutely for families, and I would say that the emotional/mental benefits of it are even BETTER than the potential weight loss benefits.  

If you don’t like leftovers, just chop in advance instead of cooking in advance, if you think it’s boring, make staples that you can repurpose into lots of different things. There are tons of different ways to meal prep, so don’t assume it’s not for you until you really explore all of the different ways you can use ti and make it work. 

Certain foods are inherently good while other foods are inherently bad

I feel like every playdate I go on I hear someone say “I’m so bad, my kids shouldn’t be eating xyz as their snack”

It breaks my heart! 

There’s a time and a season for things, and eating certain foods can never make you “good” or “bad”

Neutralizing food will help you make so much progress in your dinners and mealtimes as you learn to accept food as food and stop the judgment. 

Those are 10 of the mealtime expectations I could think of that might be making you miserable while cooking or eating dinner.  This is the bulk of this episode and I hope it has your wheels turning about thoughts that you could change or alter to make your experience cooking and at mealtime better.  

While our mealtime expectations can make us miserable, there are also times we can set reasonable expectation with our kids and families (aka boundaries)

As a bonus for this episode here are a few that I’ve set for my family. 

Reasonable mealtime expectations to set to give you more peace at mealtime

My mental health is just as important as my physical health and my meal plan should ideally support both, and sometimes there will be compromises

There should never be guilt for ordering takeout or using a shortcut to feed your family, especially if you are doing so to support your own mental health.  Doing so will help you find the time to plan and prep more for the future. 

My kids can be expected to help with mealtime, even from a young age.  It will take time and practice to make it a habit

My kids don’t stay in their seats, they don’t eat every meal, and they can be wild at the dinner table. However, from a young age they’ve been expected to clean up their own bowl and plate.  My 6 year old finally does it out of habit.  My 4 year old occasionally remembers, but often has to be reminded BUT he does it. My 3 year old usually throws a pretty big fit about doing it, but we make it happen. 

This small habit makes a world of difference to me as the mom, and I know there are others we could work on if we wanted to as well! Don’t assume your kids are too young and take the time to teach them. 

My kids have the right to refuse to eat, my responsibility is to provide relatively balanced meals, they choose what to eat

There’s nothing wrong with letting kids help with mealtime selection and finding ways for them to aid in family mealtime, but you don’t have to let them take the reins.  You’ve done your job if you provided the meals whether or not your kids like it.  They do their job whether or not they eat. 

My kids and family have the right to dislike any foods I make, but I can reasonably expect them to speak kindly about food

We don’t allow foods like yucky when it comes to talking about food.  Our kids are not expected to like everything or eat everything, but they are expected to use words like “it’s not my favorite” instead of saying it’s yucky.  They also understand that just because they don’t like a food one way, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try it again. 

I hope this has been a helpful look at your thoughts and expectations and that it helps you reframe your mealtime expectations to be more positive. 

Next time, we’ll be talking about how creating a food philosophy can give you clarity and peace around mealtime and help minimize the number of day to day decisions you make.  

Until next time, happy planning! 

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