Parenting Hack: Try Serving Your Kids a ‘Pirate’ Meal

As a busy Mom, getting food on the table is a big part of daily life. Even though we eat simple meals (with lots of leftovers), a substantial chunk of time is devoted to making sure food gets into bellies (and then cleaning up the crumbs that didn’t make it into bellies – when does the messy eating stage end?!).

Our routine follows a predictable rhythm. We gather – virtually every evening – around the supper table. We eat together and talk and then work as a team to clean up dishes and set the kitchen back to rights. It’s nice to have a routine; it’s comforting and a big part of our family “culture”.

That said, it’s also fun to shake things up. We’ve spread out a picnic blanket on the living room floor and had our food in front of the fire. We’ve gathered in the family room and munched on tacos in front of the TV. But want to know the kids’ favourite experience (which I’ve only done twice, but they still reference regularly) – a Pirate Supper.

The basic idea is this: I cover up the table with brown paper (newspaper or flyers work would work too) and serve a meal without any plates/bowls or cutlery.

Obviously, calling it a Pirate Supper (or Pirate Breakfast/Lunch) is critical to its success.

I think we had pizza with veggies and dip one night and the other might have involved grilled-cheese sandwiches and fruit? Whatever I served, the food was decidedly low-key and forgettable. It is the delivery method that takes center stage in this show, and the kids absolutely loved the experience!

Bonus: clean-up was a cinch as I simply gathered any food mess up in the paper and tossed it directly into the compost bin.

It’s been over a year since I’ve channeled my inner Jack Sparrow and I think I’m officially overdue for pulling this trick out of my parenting repertoire!

Your turn: any great ideas for bringing some creativity – and whimsy – into mealtimes with kids?

Header photo by Jakob Rosen on Unsplash

16 thoughts on “Parenting Hack: Try Serving Your Kids a ‘Pirate’ Meal”

  1. Ha! That’s awesome!

    A is at the age where she loves to help, so each evening she helps me clear the table after dinner, which I think is cute beyond measure.

    Actually, A had her first ever breakfast in bed yesterday. She was off school and snuggled in my bed with me, and hubby was getting ready to work. So he made her toast and lemon curd (her favourite!) and brought it up to bed. It was time to change the bed sheets, anyway 😉 I say this because I would not want to share a bed with any toast crumbs LOL!

    1. One of Abby’s Christmas coupons was for breakfast-in-bed outside of her birthday (I think we’ve only done this once on her birthday anyway), but giving her the option to have breakfast in bed on a random day has made her quite happy. She hasn’t “spent” this coupon yet…we’ll see how many crumbs I find in the subsequent months.

  2. Great idea! On a similar vein, I will occasionally use up any extra napkins from takeout, etc as “dishes” for our meal. Spread out your napkin and eat with your fingers! Pirate supper sounds even better! A fun name goes a long way.

    Years ago one of my nieces really wanted to make “pirate” muffins with me. The recipe that was originally called Morning Glory Muffins is still labeled “Pirate Muffins” in my folder. 😂

    1. The extra napkin trick sounds…even better. We always have extras floating around (I have started doing this sometimes for bread that is being served alongside a soup…instead of a plate, they get a little papertowel square and they can use it as a “plate” and a napkin – though the latter use is hit-and-miss, admittedly). The kids might revolt without the brown paper, but it would be easier for me. I’ll give it a whirl; if I get pushback, I’ll blame/credit you. Chances are they’ll love it if I say the idea for napkins originated with you…

  3. We are so in the weeds of eating right now that we basically just “get through” meals. Ha! But I know that someday they will be more enjoyable and a place for some creativity. When I was a kid, we tended to have a big mid-day meal on Sundays after church. Then in the evening, we would have popcorn and apples for dinner! I LOVED it. Probably sounds odd and maybe lacking in nutrition but I guess it is a pretty clean, healthish meal. No protein but we typically had a big roast or something like that for lunch so it worked out.

    1. Growing up, my family ALWAYS had our main/big meal at lunch. This seems so, so odd to me now because I/we almost always eat our “main” meal at supper.

      I think the popcorn and apples sound delicious, and likely a nice, easy alternative for your parents after a busy day of church + a big Sunday dinner. I suspect you had lots of filling items at lunch anyway.

      And YES. Mealtime does get SO. MUCH. EASIER. Promise. I was not a fan of meals when the kids were little. Even in the last year or so, I notice huge changes – I basically can now stay at the table the whole time we’re eating (where before it seemed I was constantly having to run back and forth to the kitchen to get items or clean up spills etc). The kids are both independent – no boosters or high chairs, they get their own water from the water cooler, can serve out their own food. Easier days are in store!

      1. I so look forward to these easier days! These days, when Will is put in his high chair, he starts to cry. I don’t know why because he loves to eat, maybe he is hungry? And then Paul starts to yell that HE NEEDS TO EAT FIRST, and then when he starts to yell, Will cries louder. It’s so fun. 😉

        We also tended to have our big meal mid-day on weekends, too. For us, I think it is because of my mom’s rural/farm upbringing. The mid-day meal was always a big meal since her dad and their hired help were out working in the fields, etc. But like you, I’ve bucked that trend and rarely make a big meal at lunch! When I do, like for the kids’ birthdays, I’m so tired in the afternoon! The kids are more in their “prime” mid-day but I just don’t have the energy to make a big meal for lunch, especially since we tend to eat at 11!

        1. I also think it gets a lot easier to plan meals when naps are no longer part of the planning process. I remember feeling so frantic to fit everything in. When the kids are home they mostly still do some “quiet” time but that is 100% flexible because we’re well past the nap stage (well, for the kids…but now I want to nap). Same with supper. I tend to like to eat around 5:30ish so we can start the bedtime routine early because…I’m tired by the end of the day. BUT, it is so, so, so much more flexible now. Like we didn’t start eating until 6:30 on Sunday night when we were watching the SuperBowl and the kids didn’t blink. I really appreciate now having a level of flexibility that just wasn’t there with little kids (at this point you have two young kids that have distinctive needs because of their stage of “youngness”).
          Hang in there, Lisa. Mealtime is EXHAUSTING at your stage in motherhood. I promise, promise, promise it will get easier (though we do still have tears at table quasi-regularly, but mostly over someone looking at someone with a “mean” smile or someone getting to say grace when the other child believes it was their time).

  4. Oh, that’s funny- take such a simple concept, give it a fun name, and the kids love it. My son was very into pirates when he was little (like most boys) and he would have loved this.
    Mealtimes do get easier, but then they can get hard again! Like for example when you have a thirteen-year-old daughter who doesn’t want to sit at the table with you. Fun times… this too shall pass.

    1. Ugh. Yes, I suppose there could be more tough table interactions ahead. For now, we’re mostly in a sweet spot and I hope it lasts for many years yet!

  5. I read your details about your pirate meal too literally and couldn’t quite work out how you could have dips with no plates/bowls………….that could get quite messy and very soggy newspaper!

    I remember days ,when they were little, when we were going to have picnics outside and it was pouring with rain so we would get the picnic blanket out anyway and put it somewhere in the house and have our picnic there instead. The children particularly loved putting it under the dining room table, dens were often involved too. We would have picnic days year round, not just in summer.

    Now that my children are older meal times are that special time of the day when we are all together, often the only time during the day. Meal times take a while not because of slow eating or picking at food but because we are talking, a lot. I love these conversations. I remember this from when I was a teenager. I had very few rules I had to abide by but one thing was sacred you had to be home for tea each evening. My siblings and I were always busy after school so Mum would write the time for tea on a small blackboard we had in the hall. Woe betide you if you were late or didn’t turn up, this was way before the days of mobile phones so Mum had no way of contacting us to get us to come home! My mum rarely ever got cross with us but that was one thing she was very insistent about and I am glad, as the memories of those evening meals with my family are still with me all these years later and I am loving that I am in that same place with my own family now too.

    1. A picnic under the table sounds so fun!
      One time I came home to find the babysitter had allowed the kids to get EVERY BLANKET IN THE HOUSE out to make a giant fort. It was quite exhausting, to be honest, as I was solo parenting at the time while my husband was away on a work trip. But…she had made bedrooms and a kitchen and a dining room and a movie room and the kids had eaten their snack in the “dining room.” Now that years have passed and I’m not so traumatized by all the work it took to put things back in place, I can recognize it was a really fun moment for the kiddos.

      “Woe betide you” – such a good turn of phrase. This made me chuckle…

      I also grew up eating every supper meal together as a family (and most breakfasts and lunches, too). I think my parents are secretly horrified that we sometimes stagger breakfast and the kids might eat before/after my parents when they visit.

  6. What an awesome idea! This is similar to how you eat a crab feast in MD – put down paper, put down the crabs, and have at it. With your hands. 🙂 I love how you made the ordinary special for your kids with just a few simple things – and yes, less work for you!

    1. You’re so right! My kids have never had a crab/lobster feast, but that is exactly how it’s done. Though I have to admit I hate getting my hands dirty on that sort of thing. I’ve only done it a handful of time but…ugh. It tastes great, but I’m not a huge fan of the experience (while I’m sure others LOVE it). I don’t eat things like ribs either…mostly because I don’t like handling wet/sticky food. Everyone else in my family loves corn on the cob, but the main reason I avoid it is, again, because it’s so messy.
      Reading back my response to you, it’s a bit shocking I even suggest a Pirate Supper…but I guess I’m thinking of clean/dry things – haha!

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