Setting the table - Juniper Home

Setting the table


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I’m a little nuts about dinner time.

I really want my kids to have an appreciation for good food and all the time and effort that goes into creating a meal. And I want them to be happy to eat healthy foods and be willing to drink plenty of water (less sugary juice!). And I also really want them to have good table manners. My mom was so, so good about doing family dinner right consistently when I young, and I think that was a huge factor in strengthening our family bond.

Shot of the dining room from move in day. Ugh, that light fixture is so, so bad in real life.

Even though my life is crazier than I’d like it to be, I’ve been trying to make dinner time more special at home.  I feel like now we are in a real home and my girls are getting older. It’s time to be more consistant. I’ve noticed a couple of things are really helping. I have the girls help with meal prep, but I also have them help set the table. They absolutely love doing this – folding the napkins, making the silverware perfectly line up, filling water glasses – and I think teaching kids how to properly set a table signals the importance of the thing. The more effort they put into the meal and the table, the more excited my girls are to try the food.

The other thing we do is have the girls use the adult dinnerware and flatware for dinner time meals. I’m so happy that they have learned to use a knife and fork and they are very careful with the fragile plates and glasses. Not that we haven’t had a few accidents, but I think it’s really important for kids to be given responsibilities. They will always rise to the occasion! Want to see your kid drink a full glass of water at dinner? Put it in a goblet and I guarantee it will happen! :) (These might help too)

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For breakfast and lunch though we do use fun dishes. We have personalized striped plates from La Plates that are the girls’ favorites, and also the Food Face guy from Fish’s Eddy is adorable. I also picked up the polkadot bowls above in the dollar aisle at target. I love them and wish I would have bought a dozen more! They’re the perfect size. We also have some colorful IKEA plastic flatware, but I wouldn’t mind investing in a set of playful stainless flatware like the striped ones here from PBK or the bamboo set.

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What do you guys do for your kids? Am I the only crazy one that makes their three year old eat off porcelain on principal? I guess we all pick our battles :)

What did you think?
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37 thoughts on “Setting the table

  1. I agree with you 100%. My little one eats off the same plates we do….sh helps cook and absolutely loves setting the table….she usually likes to add her fake flowers or some of her chochkies to the table. And drinking from a goblet- well that is so much fun! especially because she is the one to cue us on the chin chin.

  2. Oh, you are not the only one! As a Montessori teacher, I've put glass in my children's hands from 6 months– literally. We don't even own "kid" dishware. I do like the small-size Ikea silverware and their tiny tumblers because the size fits their little mouths better. We eat in our formal dining room every night, using linen placemats/tablecloths and real dishes. It's not stuffy, but it does emphasize that you have special manners for eating because eating is a special time. BTW– I am SO excited to see how the brownstone transforms!!!

  3. Jenny, i am going to nominate you for Big City Moms, mom of the month. I literally dont understand how you do it. I have three boys under 4 and I work full time and it takes me a month to refinish and upholster a chair seat. How do you manage everything time wise?? Seriously. Youve never mentioned a babysitter or a nanny and I now you have a young one at home. Do you sleep? Since you manage your time so well, I'm in desperate need of decorating help if you have any more time for new jobs :)

  4. I do the same thing. Ask my 3 year old to help set the table and we always eat from "adult" dishes.
    I remember when she was first born we would sit down to dinner and figure out a way to have her at the table with us. Always. Later when she started solids we even adjusted our dinner time to suit her schedule so we could have dinner together.
    I swear this is why she's so great at restaurants, parties, etc. She's had plenty of time to practice her manners during dinnertime at home.

  5. OMG you put me to shame. I have a small apartment, no children nor husband (so I have time) and I never seem to get things done. Please keep posting every day so I can keep being humbled into doing something. You always do something that is so totally good for the ordinary person to accomplish. Thanks, thanks, thanks.

  6. I find the same to be true: if the kids help with the meal, we all enjoy it more! I love love love having little tongs (that fit their hands) to use -we do use small (glass) glasses, everyone gets a knife and we encourage using silverware, not fingers; and have a cupboard at kid height so they can set the table easily….we're all far from perfect, but I do love encouraging good table manners!

  7. My mom raised 9 kids (5 of them crazy boys!) and we always ate off adult plates, helped cook, set the table and always stayed to clean up after. On sunday, we all ate off her wedding china too! I think we all have great memories from this and healthy ideas of food, as well as an appreciation for cooking. Keep it up, you're doing it right!

  8. My boys have been eating off porcelain dinner plates since they moved from the high chair (about 1?). Not that paper or plastic plates are bad, but I've always felt that if I took time to cook a nice dinner we should eat off of nice plates.

  9. My kids have always eaten off of "real" plates and glass glasses! I can't tell you how many times friends had a look of terror & confusion on their faces when their kids were over and I served them with our fine china (that we use everyday). In all the years and all the weekly+ playdates – never once have we had a broken piece! I echo Nataliya… my boys, now 8 & 6, have always been amazing at restaurants and dinner parties because they are used to sitting down as a family, using manners and 'fancy' place settings =) I also swear by the Stokke high chair! They've been part of the table since they were one =)

  10. Yes, yes and YES! Such a great post! I don't have kids of my own but I do work with overweight children at risk for diabetes and I love offering fun suggestions to families that will engage their children in healthful mealtime behaviors! I'm going to be sending this post out to several of my clients!

  11. I heart you! Especially the drinking water in a goblet. We got all our 4 girls anthro mugs with their initial for water. I love dinner time as well and have started using paper sometimes because I need them to do clean up and with sports/homework it has helped. Oh…we recycle.

  12. Totally agree Jenny! I've always used fabric napkins – love them – and they use adult-sized silverware once they are about 2 and can handle holding it. I've been looking for cute glass water tumblers for them – I confess I'm just not ready for my 2 year old boy to drink from my Sundance recycled glass goblets! I can remember the first time Laurel encountered paper napkins and couldn't figure out what they were for..coloring maybe?

  13. I love dinner time with our family. The kids (3 and 4) are really having to learn about being patient and waiting their turn to talk, and that talking and hearing from everyone in the family is important. I've been collecting and eating off Fiestaware for years now and recently bought the lunch plates and fruit bowls for the kids. The bowls especially are the perfect size for breakfast cereal in the morning. I don't know why i ever had the plastic stuff. Maybe b/c that's what stores sell for kids and you think you have to have it? Won't be doing that with #3. The water goblets are a good idea. I may have to look around for something like that. May be too heavy for my son to handle right now, though. My daughter will probably feel more like a princess.That's what she would say anyway :)

  14. I was just talking about this with my husband the other day. We both grew up with family dinners and we are suprised by how few of our friends and my kids' classmates eat dinner together. I can't say that we use cloth napkins, but we do sit down with real plates, glasses and silverware and eat together. I also second the Stokke chairs. My 3 & 5 year old have been using them since they were 1. We also use the REKO glasses from Ikea. We have found them to be a good size and they stack which is nice.

  15. We do dinner as a family in the dining room every night. I have the kids eat off glass plates at dinner, but they are child sized. They also drink out of real glasses, but they are smaller.
    I think it helps with correct portions.

    We typically eat breakfast/lunch at the kitchen table and may or may not use plastic plates depending on what is clean at the time.

    I will say that I think some of the things you mention are a girls vs. boys thing. I have 3 boys and then a girl, but she's little so she still sits in a highchair. My boys do help, but they don't get excited about lining up napkins and silverware just so. I am not saying that boys are incapable of preparing meals or setting the table or cleaning up b/c all of my boys do these things, but they just don't get excited about the details the way I did growing up.

    We made this "you are special" plate as a couple when our oldest was 2 and now we nominate people to get the special plate and my boys LOVE it. It's glass and has a few chips in it, but that only adds to its charm.

  16. oh, my daughter is 2 years old (this weekend) and you have just set the standard for her before turning 3! I love this idea! thanks for sharing!

  17. You are not alone. My son, now 9, has eaten off of the same plates as my husband and me since he was three. He drinks out of our glasses and enjoys a cocktail of perrier with lemon or lime out of our wine glasses. Knock on wood, he has not broken any to date. But it's only glassware and dishware!!!! Good job.

  18. Hi Jenny,

    We agree! I have one word for what I've learned about feeding young kids: ramekins. I have every size of white porcelain ramekin to make small portions seem more grand and to keep food separate (so important for kids). They're cheap, come in a million sizes and look artful when the sizes are mismatched at the table.

    And, I got the idea from my sister to use fabric paint to apply numbers to cloth napkins and assign each family member a number. That way, napkins can be used several times before washing. No one is swapping germs and we're keeping paper waste to a minimum.

    We can't wait to see the new dining room!

    Andra and Catherine

  19. We do dinner as a family every night as well. Although setting the table is one of their chores, my kids love doing it and dont even see it as a chore. We really use dinner time to talk and connect as a family. Our daily routines are so busy and that hour os dedicated us time is absolutely wonderful. My 4 yr old doesnt use porcelain quite yet, though!

  20. Kids must learn how to eat off proper dinnerware some time, why not at the family table? Better to make mistakes at home than at a cafe/restaurant. I agree with you that once kids eat + drink like Mum and Dad, they sense being a little different and are willing to try any food.

  21. I totally agree that children should be involved in the meal prep process. I also always used the 'good' china at dinner and had my children set the table properly.
    It serves them well later in life!
    I'm not so keen on the 'face' plates as I really think those encourage little ones to play with their food. (A real no-no here!)

  22. People are always a bit surprised that my children will eat just about everything. I think it is because I involve them in the selection, preparation and serving of food.

    In addition to a sit down dinner every night I keep a gratitude journal on the table and one by one we go around the table and say 1 thing we are thankful for each day.

    Good for you for making mealtime special!

  23. I have some salmon pink colored vintage cafeteria rectangular trays, and we love eating off of those! My kids who are 4 and 6, also help set the table, clear it and such. We also have lots of healthy choices for them to eat,. We have had some battles, but so far so good!

  24. I don't have children, but have fond memories of helping my mom a child. Setting the table and making salad dressing were my two tasks each night. I didn't realize until much later in life that people used paper/plastic plates, napkins and flatware for anything but picnics!

    And I think helping in the kitchen growing up is one of the reasons I love cooking now so much … early practice!

  25. I don't have kids but as a 25 year old who's mom was exactly like that I can tell you how yours may turn out at my age. My mom made diner every night and we ate in the dining room at 6:00 flat. She always cooked home made food and very rarely did we have frozen or junk food on the table. She was a single mom (to only me) but I don't think I missed anything in my childhood. To this day I respect home cook meals and diner on the table more than eating out or making quick unhealthy meals. And my favorite thing to do as a child was to help set the table AND clear it up for everyone afterward. I live alone now and although I'm busy I cook practically every day and sit at my dining table. And if I do have children one day, I wish I can raise them as well as my mom raised me.

  26. Come to think of it, my kids have been eating off of the same ceramic plates that we do since they've moved out of the high chair. However, I often substitute plastic cups and bowls, just because we've had a few things break before.

  27. We're the same. Our 20 month old has been eating off and drinking from ceramic or glass since she started solids. I, too, use lots of ramekins to help her out when she needs a lip for small grain like things.

  28. Superb post! I've bookmarked your web site as well for the reason that I realized it is actually impressed and I enjoyed reading your appears like you'll do a fantastic job on the net.

    I want to set my table also. simply superv.

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  29. Nope, you are not nuts. Our 3 year old also has been using porcelain dishes and glass cups for a while. I hit the resale shops for small glass cups that suit her little hands. We are also trying to be very faithful to eating as a family and our little girl is a faithful little kitchen assistant! Sometimes the food tastes funny, but its a small price to pay. :)

  30. I'm a big believer too, though some days it doesn't always happen the way I envision with 3 little ones. I highly rec the book "The Family Dinner". It has a lot of great recipes and great ideas for encouraging this important tradition. Love your blog!

  31. Totally agree on the family meal and manners. And we use the good stuff too…and I've always decorated without fully kid-proofing. Some things may get broken, but I think it's important they have respect for our home and not treat it like a jungle gym! Geez, I sound like such a crab! :)

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