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3 Tips for Feeding Cats and Kids at the Same Time -- Without Pulling Your Hair Out

At multispecies mealtime, keep everyone busy -- and let go of your Martha Stewart expectations.

 |  May 9th 2013  |   4 Contributions


Ah, mealtime -- that special time when families gather 'round the kitchen table and break bread together. It's a lovely visual, no? We see it on most TV commercials for cereal or Hamburger Helper. Dinner is always on time, everyone has perfect manners, and cats aren't sniffing around for scraps. Is this what happens in your house? Nope, mine either.

A few years ago, my son Ben showed me his exceptional table manners. Not Hamburger Helper commercial material.

Let's face it: Mealtime can be a bit of a challenge, especially with kids and cats underfoot. And it's not just the actual sitting down-and-eating part of it. It's the prep, the clean-up, and somehow trying to keep humans and felines happy and busy the whole time.

Phoebe is not amused by her empty plate.

And breakfast time? Sometimes there's just not enough coffee in the pot to effectively manage that craziness. First, is all homework completed? Where is that field trip permission slip you swore you put on top of that pile? You know the pile -- the one where you stack everything that you know is important but you don't need that very minute. It's all right, I have one of those. Or maybe two. 

And somewhere in the distance is the faint but very identifiable hack-hack-hacking of a hairball, followed by your desperate hope the wet clump didn't land on somebody's shoe, because you're already running behind. And then there's the thing about food. For some reason cats and kids want some of it. Huh. 

Cats love it when small children who drop things eat close to the floor.

Here are three tips for tackling cat and people mealtime without completely pulling your hair out:

1. Enlist feeding assistants

From the age of two or three, my kids have helped with feeding the cats. That was back in the day when all our cats ate kibble, so it was much easier to scoop and plop into the dishes, but now we have some that eat canned and some that eat kibble and some that eat a combination of both. My kids are now teens, so I figure if they can handle a chemistry class, they can open a can of cat food.

Kids of nearly any age can help with cat-feeding.

Right around morning and evening mealtime, the cats start circling and whining -- it's impossible to get anything done until we stop and feed them. In order to save sanity and not start off the day thinking foul thoughts, we make cat-feeding a priority. When my kids were babies and were more prone to crawling over and eating the cat food rather than serving it, I had to first feed whoever was crying the loudest. (My tears didn't count.)

By the way, I've found that creating something as simple as an egg bake on Sunday makes weekly kids' breakfasts a snap. Older kids can grab their own, heat it up, and they're good to go! You can even make little egg bakes in muffin tins so each child can add their favorite ingredients. Easy-peasy and protein for growing brains, yo! 

2. Enforce feline physical education

We have three cats, and only Phoebe is really active. Cosmo will occasionally race around after a jingle ball, and Saffy's just a giant gray slug. She is a gorgeous slug, though.

Sometimes while I'm cooking dinner and everyone seems restless, I ask the kids to play with the cats. They grab the feather-on-the-wand thingie or a catnip toy and give the cats a workout. It keeps everybody occupied, away from the TV, and the cats get some exercise. I am waiting, however, for Saffy to bring me a note from her doctor, excusing her from P.E. class.

Phoebe and Cosmo track a bug while Saffy the slug looks on.

3. Let it go 

When my kids were in elementary school, I tried making food in the shapes of animals, just like Martha Stewart did. Except my animals looked less like giraffes and more like amoebas. I wanted to be one of those moms who seemed to always have her act together. I wanted to have dinner prepared at the same time every night and have everyone eat all their vegetables, with no whining. I wanted cats off the counter and for all my important paperwork and cards from friends to be free of tiny feline chew-marks at the corners. Damn it, I wanted to be the Hamburger Helper commercial mom!

A cherished birthday card from friends has been marked with tiny teeth.

I finally had to let it go. I was never going to be that mom, and really, did I want to be her? She seems a little Stepford Wifey. I've learned some great tips for keeping my family sorta-kinda on track. Maybe my kids whine now and again at the dinner table, but so do I. Perhaps dinner isn't always on time, but hearing the laughter of my kids playing with the cats in the next room somehow softens things and makes me smile. 

Maybe dinner wasn't always on time because we were busy wearing Beanie Babies on our heads, but we were awesome.

I think that, as moms, we're always comparing ourselves to other mothers. We do the very best we can for our families and we do it with love and maybe a tip here and there to keep things a little more sane. We are not Hamburger Helper commercial moms and that's OK. But we can sure stack a mean pile of papers.

What are your tips for staying sane during mealtime? 

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About the Author: Angie Bailey is a weird girl with freckles and giant smile who wants everyone to be her friend. Loves pre-adolescent boy humor, puns, making up parody songs, and thinking about cats doing people things. Wrote a ridiculous humor book about cats wheeling and dealing online. Partner in a production company and writes and acts in comedy web series that may or may not offend people. Mother to two humans and three cats, all of which want her to make them food.

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