By Maureen A. Boyle
(published in SUPERTWINS Volume 5 #4 – September 1994)

It comes at you from out of nowhere. It creeps up on you so slowly and unsuspecting and then BOOM! It hits, it is 5:00 p.m. Time to pull another rabbit out of the hat. “What’s for dinner?”

Over the past several months many families have been asking for dinnertime strategies and recipes for families of higher multiples of all ages! While we wait for your quick kitchen tips, I will share a few of ours.

When our triplets were newborns many friends said they wished they could help us but they worked full time and/or had families of their own. My mom pinned them down (not literally) and asked them to drop off a frozen meal in a container that did not have to be returned. This was a true godsend during my children’s first few months. One friend had a standing order of a local pizza parlor to deliver a pizza to our house every Friday for six months and bill her. This was such a gift that it has become a family ritual.

Starting Solids
When the babies finally graduated to eating solids (a transition I strongly suggest you don’t rush into), at about 14 lbs. or 6 mos. adjusted age they cried throughout their meals. We learned to feed them a little formula before meals and not to wait until they were hungry but to anticipate it. I remember feeding them with a bottle in one hand a spoon in the other. Feeding the bottle, removing it, putting the spoon in quick and then quickly returning to the bottle as I refilled the spoon and gave a spoonful to the sibling. This phase passed quickly but it was a big transition for them to adjust from continuous gratification of the bottle to interval feeding with a spoon. Aside from their adjusted age, and weight, a development readiness sign is, the baby will suck the food off the spoon if he is ready. If he is not ready he will push the food out or his tongue will go flat.

By nine months I was an old pro and was able to finish a feeding single handedly in a matter of a few short minutes. I used one bowl and one spoon and fed everyone at the same time. I also started making some of my own baby food with a “mini chop” and a blender. I slowly changed from baby food applesauce to the large jar of the store name regular (not chunky) with only natural ingredients and no sugar. I used the smooth yogurt instead of baby food yogurt. I found this transition was easy since I had to cook for the rest of the family anyway.

Introducing Table Foods
We did this late compared to many families. One of my children choked easily and I was afraid to rush into this. But like every other stage that mom tries to delay, your children will let you know when they are ready. They want to feed themselves instead of you doing it all. You can give each baby his own spoon and a small bowl of whatever it is your are feeding them or small cut up table food, i.e. cubed pancakes, cut up pasta, scrambled eggs, cheerios, diced grapes or cut up canned fruit. I suggest putting a table cloth, sheet or shower curtain under the high chairs and shaking it out after every meal instead of having to wash the floor after every meal. As a rule of thumb when giving babies table food make sure it is about the size of a thumb nail to avoid choking.

Finicky Eating Toddlers
By my children’s second birthday their appetites dropped remarkably, just like many other toddlers. It tried not to make an issue of meals but this wasn’t always easy. Between 18 mos. and two years children start to resist staying in their high chairs. I have heard of some mom going to some real extremes to keep their children safe and firmly in place in their high chairs. We purchased stroller harnesses and attached them to belts already in the high chairs and kept the high chairs far enough apart so the children would not help undo each others sippers while my back was turned. We also made a very firm rule that if they insisted on getting out of their high chairs before they were finished they were not given any other food. It was eat dinner or eat nothing. It was tough. The ate so little throughout the day that I couldn’t allow them to eat anything but foods that were nutritionally sound. (I would sneak my own treats, but that is another story.) This non-eating stage passed also. I now wish I was related to the local grocer (Yes, that is another story also!).

One trick that did work then trying to get the children to eat a little more that a mouthful at a meal was to use “dipsies”. If there was something for them to dip their food into, the food seemed that much more appealing. We used ketchup, gravy, salad dressing, tartar sauce and BBQ sauce. It tried to use the low-salt, low fat brands since we did use a lot of these condiments.

Preschool Snacking Through School-Age (feeding the multitude)
When I tell you that my children rebounded from the last phase with a vengeance, it is an understatement! From age 3 on up it seems that the phrase “I’m hungry” should just be stamped on each of their foreheads. I started outlet food shopping at this time. We went to wholesale food stores and bought cereal, eggs, frozen meats and juices in bulk. I would suggest, if possible, buying a large chest freezer so that buying in bulk is a little easier. We also started some easy gardening in our yard. Nora has her own strawberry garden which she takes care of herself. She picks strawberries in the morning, washes them and has her own private snack throughout the day (Spring-Fall). Like everything else we seem to do I overdid the gardening the first few years making it more of a job then a joy. Now we do a little container garden: 4 heads of lettuce, 4 tomato plants, 4 cucumbers, 4 peppers and we have salad the whole summer. I plant early and never bother with them again until it is time to pick. Gardening is not for everyone but if you have a yard or fire escape in your apartment you have enough room.

One other strategy for cutting down on my time in the kitchen and the 5:00 panic has been to pull out that crock pot I got as a bridal shower gift 12 years ago and never used. After the children leave for school or during the baby’s naptime I will put on stew or pot roast or make a baked ziti in the crock pot. As many of you know I am generally in the office from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM and if I leave the kitchen in the morning with my pot of coffee I am usually not likely to find the time to go back. To be honest I usually use the crock pot only during soccer season. Four of our children and myself all play soccer. Fitting in homework, practice, meals, showers, and getting to bed at a reasonable hour is not always easy. But if all else fails I keep a jar of Ragu and a pound of pasta on hand at all times.

We have also been cooking in bulk for some time. This helps out a lot. If I am going to be making enough of a good meal to feed an army it is just as easy to double everything and freeze the second meal. When we have french toast (on the weekends) I will make two loaves work and freeze the left-overs so we can have hot breakfast on a school day or a snack after school.

For the first several years I fed the children first and my husband and I ate later. When they started table food we would eat at the same time as the children on weekends (during the week my husband came home too late). This eating together was seldom enjoyable and often over quickly. Long, leisurely meals were for the people in the international coffee commercials. As the children got a little easier (school age); meals became for the most part civil but at the same time a challenge to find the time when we were all under the same roof at the same time. Eating as a family when possible is the ideal. When is there another time that I have the opportunity to ask “Mr. Elbows” to get off the table or remind the children that the milk glass goes at 12:00 (the top center of their plates just like a clock) so as to not spill their cups? My mother recently gave me a copy of Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers. I’m glad we have a few years to go before we have to deal with the teenage years. But I got the hint that we now need to work on table manners!