Home > Masterly Inactivity: Wisely Passive Techniques to Get Kids to Eat > How to get kids to the dinner table: get an attitude

How to get kids to the dinner table: get an attitude


OBSERVED at the Pearl Brewery Farmers Market on Saturday morning: this little girl wanted to know how much it would cost to buy a tomato. The seller got out her special stock for the girl to pick from and weighed her selection. A quarter? That's exactly how much the little girl had in her little purse to spend on something special that day. Now what kind of kid in today's world wants to buy a tomato with her quarter? And what kind of parent raises a child like that? I should have interviewed them.

I like to say it’s never too late to change. While in theory, it’s never too late, the reality is that sometimes, for various reasons, it just is.

Whether it’s too late for you to start serving real meals and getting your kids to eat them all depends on your attitude.

“Masterly inactivity” is the most effective attitude for a parent to take on, at the dinner table or elsewhere, according to Victorian-era British educational reformer Charlotte Mason.

Masterly inactivity is the state of being in charge, seeing all, yet purposefully leaving children alone to a great degree.

The elements of this attitude, according to Mason, are:

  1. Authority

Children need to be aware at all times that you are in charge. Establishing your authority from the beginning is the best, but better to do it now than try to yet later. It may take some time. Your children should see that you are steady and solid, not wishy-washy and hesitant.  “This element of strength is the backbone of our position,” Mason says.  Be the kind of parent who can fix them with your eye, without nagging.

2.      Good humor

Having natural good humor at the table doesn’t mean you let them walk all over you or don’t care what they do. But being in a pleasant mood, being able to joke around and laugh are good things.  Be firm but pleasant at the table.

3.       Self-confidence

“Parents should trust themselves more,” writes Mason.  Avoid worrying out loud, fussing, explaining, interfering, pestering, hovering at the table.  Be dignified, straightforward, and clear in your own mind what you expect from you children as far as behavior. Then make it clear to them and stick to it.

At dinner time, if you’ve done your homework, you know what you should feed your kids, you’ve gotten it together and it’s on the table. At that point, your job is over and you’ve done it well. Once at the dinner table, it’s time to let that purposeful leaving alone take over as far as the eating goes.

4.          Confidence in the children

It’s not all up to us. Expect the best, believe in your child, then let her fulfill your expectations without constant checking up on her. Know that your child can enjoy healthy foods without being forced, and only without being forced.  Believe in their appetites. Believe in their ability as little humans to regulate their own eating by listening to their appetites. We’ve all heard the tiresome mom who hounds her child: “Emma, eat your salad. You can’t have any dessert unless you eat that. Yes! At least one bite. Stop it!” Neither effective nor agreeable to be around.

5.         Serenity

“This open-eyed attitude must be sphinx-like in its repose,” Mason tells us.  Rushing around and doing too much, complete with stress and pressure, doesn’t contribute to successfully getting kids to the table.  Planning ahead and allowing time for just being at the dinner table are requirements.

We should cultivate the “serenity of a Madonna,” as Mason calls it. This attitude adds to the security of our children in knowing their parents are in charge and know best. Children don’t need to hear about our worries about obesity and health. They don’t profit from our fussing and hovering. Don’t share your nervous fears with them, such as what if they won’t eat it? What if this isn’t really good for them? What if I can’t get them to eat right and they get fat and sick and die?

The parents must bear the burden of their children’s training, urges Mason, but “let them bear it with easy grace and an erect carriage as the Spanish peasant bears her water jar.”

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 9 November 2009 / All rights reserved

Related posts:

“Using sphinx-like repose to end the food fight”

“How to use masterly inactivity to win your child to healthy eating for life”

“Taking a detour: One good way to neutralize a kid’s food resistance”

This post was feature on Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday on Jan. 22, 2010

  1. Anna Migeon
    April 28, 2010 at 8:38 am

    Thanks for your encouraging comment. I think we all feel the push to be supermoms, worry and control every little thing, when doing less is more, much of the time. Thanks for reading!

  2. Nadene
    April 27, 2010 at 9:33 am

    This is the first time I have so clearly read of the CM approach to eating! It is a wonderful reminder to reign in my natural tendancies and be “a serene Madonna” – something I seem to really pray and trust the Lord to accomplish!

  3. November 9, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    So, many times I know the decision to be made when it comes to eating, but I will either turn to something else out of habit or ease. I too often allow my children to be in control of what they are eating. What do you want for lunch A or B? I have a 4 year old and a 19 month old. They eat okay… They don’t get many sweets, but there are things in their diets that I’d rather not be there. At home I’m in control and I am the parent. I need to remember that. Thank you for this article.

    • Anna Migeon
      November 10, 2009 at 2:26 pm

      Kelli, thanks for reading and for your comments! I think that you can definitely decide exactly what your children will be eating at your children’s ages. If you don’t want them eating it, you’re probably right and need to stick to it. Their hunger is on your side. I don’t think it’s a big problem to occasionally give them a choice between two lunches (as long as they are both exactly what you want them to eat), but your kids need to know you are in charge and will hold them to what is best. Your job is making only the right food available, and it’s up to them how much and what of it they eat. Did you see my previous post about “greasing and tightening”?: https://sacredappetite.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/grease-and-tighten-how-to-get-kids-to-the-dinner-table/

      For me, I think if I’d had information like this when my kids were little, it would have bolstered me: https://sacredappetite.wordpress.com/2009/06/10/mamas-don’t-let-your-babies-grow-up-to-need-braces/

      I have a lot of ideas about what we should or shouldn’t eat, and other parents have their own ideas. Whatever your food ideals for your children, my focus is on empowering parents and suggesting ways to get kids eating according to the parents’ goals instead of their own.

      I’d love to hear more about what struggles you have. I need your help knowing what best to write about!

  1. May 27, 2010 at 12:19 pm
  2. January 28, 2010 at 10:37 am
  3. January 20, 2010 at 6:41 pm
  4. December 17, 2009 at 5:15 pm

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