Food Revolution Phase 3: Family Style Meals

mealtime peace

Dating back to our newlywed days, George and I have eaten dinner together at the table with no interruptions.  Family meals were equally important with the addition of children. When the quads were babies, George constructed a quad feeding table, which worked well for spoon feeding them.   When they were about two years old, we transitioned to a family dinner table, which helped us better enjoy family meals because we were facing each other.  For a while, mealtime was a pleasurable experience, but then it became dreadful.

Eliminating snacks certainly didn’t improve mealtime, and changing our snack menu improved nutrition, but still did not alleviate mealtime stress.  Once again, I was back to the drawing board.  I thought back to a conversation I had with one of our ECI therapists about a year ago.  She too experienced mealtime woes and found the work of Ellyn Satter quite helpful.  The foundation of Ellyn Satter’s work hinges on this principle:

“The parent is responsible for what, when, where. The child is responsible for how much and whether.” – Ellyn Satter Institute (ESI)

I thought we’d done a decent job following this principle as well as many of the other recommendations of the ESI.

  • Served three meals a day at regular times with snacks in between
  • Sat at the table to eat
  • We ate as a family with no interruptions
  • We did not operate as short order cooks and did not limit our menu to appease anyone
  • We always served something the kids would like at meals, and included a satisfying starch
  • We let the kids choose which items from the meal to eat and how much of each item
  • We denied snacks between the regular meal and snack times

Despite all of these long standing mealtime habits, there were disgruntled children at our dinner table and it was unpleasant. Having quadruplets means that many of our daily tasks are completed in an assembly line manner, which makes things efficient and fair.   The kid’s plates were no exception.  In the past, after a meal was prepared, we set out the kids plates, filling them with each part of our meal.  We ended up with four identical plates that were doled out at the table.  During the meal, they were allowed to opt out of eating anything on their plate and were encouraged to put unwanted items to the side.  They could also request more of anything they especially liked.  Yet, there were many nights that kids screeched about something at dinner.   I had one final idea I wanted to attempt.


While I was cooking dinner, I started asking the kids to set the table, giving each child something to set out.  They took this new responsibility very seriously, and it really helped me because it completed a task and kept them occupied while I was busy. Once the meal was ready, we placed all of the food on the center of  the table.  Then, we’d take each dish, going around the table to ask each child if they wanted any.  If it was an item they could self serve, we let them.  If it was too difficult for them to manage, we’d ask them where (the where is critical) on their plate we should put the food, and how much.  This small change was magical.  Three year olds crave independence and control over anything they can manage.  Giving them the control over what went on their plate and where it went alleviated our mealtime stress.

We’ve been serving all meals in this manner for about a month.  In that time period, not one child has thrown a fit.  In fact, the kids have been extremely complimentary about their meals saying things such as, “I like this meal, Mama!”  (Mind you, they are complimenting the very meals that previously sent them into a tailspin.) They’ve also tried foods they previously denied.  They don’t clean their plate, and I don’t want them to.  Instead, they are eating until they feel satisfied and most of all, they are happy.  Mealtime peace has been restored!




Rylin didn’t want to oblige me for a photo, but her plate is a really good example of how it was designed by her.  She really loves tomatoes and she chose a tomato salad with Japanese dressing on it.  The other three aren’t as keen on tomatoes and opted out.


How is dinner served at your house?





Food Revolution: Phase 2 Snacks Redefined

snacks redefined

When eliminating snacks was unsuccessful for improving dinnertime, I was back to the drawing board.  First, I considered our goals for dinner, and with feeding in general.

  1. We wanted the kids eating a well balanced diet that was adequate for health and growth.  This was critical since our family has experienced chronic constipation, food allergies, and our children are much smaller than same age peers.
  2. We wanted the entire family to have pleasant mealtime experiences.

Since banning snacks basically created hangry children, I decided it was time for everyone (adults and children) to redefine snacks.  Over the past few years, we developed poor snacking habits.  The majority of the time, snacks consisted of food with minimal nutritional value.  Snacking wasn’t the problem itself, the bigger issue was these foods often became substitutes for meals and the kids weren’t getting adequate nutrition.  Keeping this in mind, I tweaked the snack menu.

When our typical afternoon snack time arrived, I started offering several choices that included primarily fruits and vegetables, and other sources of protein such as nuts or dairy.  In the beginning, the kids were NOT pleased with these options, and often on their own volition skipped snacks altogether.  On many occasions they demanded off menu items.  Instead of catering to their whims, I continued offering a variety of options that included items I knew they’d enjoyed before.  We have two tiered basket on the counter top that is always full of fruit (often chosen by the kids during shopping trips), and these were consistently offered as snacks.  In addition, if someone didn’t eat part of a meal, and it was an item I knew they liked, I put it into lidded containers color coded by child.   Leftovers could then be added to the snack menu.



Here, we had left over Greek yogurt, apples, and pasta that was untouched at lunch.


After the weeks trudged on, the kids finally started trying their new snack options and enjoying them.  I could not believe it when Sydney chose apples for her snack, and then gobbled them with a huge smile on her face.  This was a BIG deal, people. Sydney is a self proclaimed “carnival” (e.g. carnivore) who loves to nosh meat and carbohydrates.  Fruit and  veggies have never been atop her preferred foods list, yet she decided apples were indeed tasty.  While we were shopping, she requested grapes.  This was huge for her.



Raw carrots for snack?  Why yes!  And look at those smiles!


During this process of redefining snacks, our snack menu is somewhat limited.  At the same time, our previously enjoyed foods are not “forbidden” either.  I want the kids to learn how to enjoy a variety of food and feel satisfied with some of the most nutritious foods, but to also appreciate treats.  I enjoy desserts and salty snacks, why shouldn’t they?

Even with better snacking habits underway, improving the kid’s nutritional intake, my second goal was not yet achieved.  The kids were often fussy at dinner, claiming to be “very hungry” then refusing to eat anything presented to them.  It was not uncommon for one or more children to proclaim something such as “This is DISGUSTING!” (Thank you, Pixar for Inside Out, and adding “disgust” to the children’s emotional vocabulary.)  It seemed that the kids took turns having a dinnertime tantrum so we’d experience at least one per night.  Even worse, tantrums occurred even when we served favorite meals and despite the fact we told them they didn’t have to eat anything they didn’t want.  Dinner was an exasperating experience most nights.

At this point, we were on the cusp of accomplishing both of the feeding goals, but weren’t quite there.  Stay with me, I know many others are having similar struggles and are eager to discover what finally made all the difference in the world.







You Win Some, You Lose Some

When our friends, Neha and Kristen came to help with the babies last week, I really wanted to do something that would be difficult without four adults.  I spent a good portion of the day deciding what missions I wanted to tackle and came up with two: 1. Do a first birthday photo shoot 2. Take the babies out to dinner.  You may remember, we took the babies out for dinner several months ago, but at the time they were tiny and not ready to enjoy the scenery.  At 10 months old, they can sit in high chairs, eat finger foods, and soak in their new environment.   Plus, they really need the occassional field trip.

The three of us attempted the photo shoot before George arrived home from work and it was dicey to say the least.  Needless to say, mobile babies are not so easy to capture as infants who lay still.  After squeezing four babies into beach wear, we spread a quilt outside in the shade and toted the babies outdoors.  Neha and Kristen enthusiastically blew bubbles and tossed a beach ball in a futile attempt to engage the babies.  As soon as we’d get all four situated, one or more would make a mad dash to the grass or would yank someone else’s hair.  The babies were far more concerned about exploring the back yard, or in Sydney’s case snuggling up on the quilt for a nap.  As the three of us furiously smoldered in the Texas heat, we gave up on an outdoor shoot and hauled the babies back indoors.  They were just as active inside as out so we turned on a Baby Einstien DVD.  My little trick kept the babies together, but they were hardly still and of course they craned their necks to see the television.  All I can say is we tried.  I showed George the “good one” and he made the mistake of saying, “But no one is smiling.”  Getting them together was nearly impossible so smiles were low in the priority list.

Harper is darting out of the photo as the other three have other priorities as well.

Harper is darting out of the photo as the other three have other priorities as well.

I thought it would be cute to lay the babies on the quilt with their heads together.  They disagreed.

I thought it would be cute to lay the babies on the quilt with their heads together. They disagreed.

And, this was a "good one".  All babies are together, but as you can see it was not the money shot.

And, this was a “good one”. All babies are together, but as you can see it was not the money shot.

Thankfully, the second mission was far better than the first.  Although it was witching hour, I thought dinner out might be refreshing for the babies. I didn’t think Jason’s Deli would be bustling on a Tuesday at 5:30 pm either.  After we fed the babies dinner, we loaded them into the van armed with an arsenal of baby supplies.  Once at Jason’s Deli I scooted in first with Super Seats as the other adults unloaded the babies.  I scouted out a long table where adults could sit in the middle and anchor the corners with babies.  After attaching each Super Seat, we adorned each baby’s spot with adhesive place mats and littered them with Cheerios.  As soon as we knew the babies were content, the adults took turns ordering.  There was just enough time for us to enjoy dinner while the babies entertained themselves with Cheerios and making observations.

Can you spot all four babies?

Can you spot all four babies?

Mason was enamored with the little girls seated behind us and spent most of the time craning his neck to see them.  At just 10 months old, he is already proving himself to be flirtatious.  Meanwhile, Sydney found the ceiling fans to be fascinating.  We were able to enjoy our meal and some conversation while the babies simply enjoyed the new scene.  Breakdown was a breeze; I pulled up place mats and wadded them into the trash, stacked Super Seats and loaded car seats.  We arrived home just in time for pajamas and the last call bottle.

Sydney looked so tiny sitting at the table.  She had to stretch her arms and fingers out just to reach the Cheerios.

Sydney looked so tiny sitting at the table. She had to stretch her arms and fingers out just to reach the Cheerios.

I brought Sippy cups and then left them in the van.  We improvised with cups and straws.

I brought Sippy cups and then left them in the van. We improvised with cups and straws.

The babies each got their first sample of ice cream.  I wanted to make sure they were okay before their birthday.

The babies each got their first sample of ice cream. I wanted to make sure they were okay before their birthday.


Each adult was assigned a baby Kristen: Rylin, Me: Harper, George: Sydney, and Neha: Mason.