Would you try a no-rules dinner with your kids?

child eating spaghetti messily no rules dinner
Irina Wilhauk/Shutterstock

For many families, dinner is the only time everyone is able to eat together during weekdays. It can be a special meal where family members are able to spend quality time with each other at the end of the day. It can also be a stressful, chaotic disaster—especially with kids.

If your evenings are feeling more like the latter than the former, it might be time to try a no-rules dinner.

Instagrammer Billie Kay Asmus (@mama_beekay) went viral when she shared a reel about switching things up at dinnertime. “POV: You’re a mom that’s tired of the daily dinner grind and it’s bath night,” reads video text as the mama of two wipes down her dining table and covers it with plastic wrap. “It was time to switch things up.”

The clip then shows her young kid and toddler get suited up in sleeved bibs while she dumps a whole pot of sauced spaghetti directly on the table. She gives her children utensils but hands are used just as much—and that’s OK! “My kids never ate so much before,” the video reveals as it shows the whole family enjoying dinner straight from the table, including Asmus and her partner, and the kids slurping noodles.

“Maybe I should dump dinner on the table more often,” Asmus wrote in the caption. “Both kids stayed at the dinner table the whole time, they never complained, and I’ve never seen them eat so well! Plus, we hardly had any dishes to do!”

This is such a fun idea, but even though there might not be many dishes, there will be very messy kids. If that makes you cringe, you’re not alone! But did you know there’s actually developmental benefits to letting your kids make a mess during mealtime? Babies learn through touch and self-feeding can strengthen fine-motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Toddlers crave autonomy. Messy eating can also help desensitize the tactile system in children.

If you’re in a dinner rut but you just can’t get yourself to go this far into a no-rules dinner, you can try something like a “toddler dinner.” This trend is a riff off the popular no-effort “girl dinner” and can look like a charcuterie-style snack plate with your kiddo’s favorite no-cook, nutritious munchies like fresh fruit, veggies and dip, or cheese and crackers.

Switching up your dinner routine could also help your picky eater try new foods. Never underestimate the impact fun and playing with food has on a child!

A version of this story was originally published on Feb. 16, 2024. It has been updated.