Thanks for all the input everyone. It's interesting to see what different people do. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what is making this so difficult for us. I think some of the elements are
- Late night dinner: DH often doesn't get home until 7:30 or even later, so we are frequently sitting down to dinner at 8pm. I feed DD1 some fruit and milk beforehand so she's not starving, but this means she's not super excited for dinner either. And she's never been that into food, if it's not something she's wild about she just won't eat it.
- Eating all the same food: I make one dinner but so far there are only two things I have found that both DH and DD1 will eat: fried rice with veggies and spinach omelets. The other nights DD will usually take maybe 1-2 bites of the main meal (with cajoling) and end up eating mainly something else (eg corn, avocado, oven fried potatoes, tomatoes/cukes/olives out of the salad). Or sometimes I will make a piece of fish just for me and the kids (DH is a vegetarian and he'll just have a cheese sandwich those nights). So I'm not making two meals but somebody (either DH or DD1) is always having some quickie item instead of the actual dinner. And the baby has no teeth so her food has to be soft, so I usually make something just for her as well since nobody else is particularly into mushy food.
- Sitting at the table: I don't mean I need DD to sit there for an hour or anything,10 minutes would be fine with me, it's that she won't even come in and sit down. She'd generally rather play or watch TV or whatever rather than come to dinner. I would be willing to make this a hill to die on and have the battle every night, but DH doesn't feel the same way and it's hard to enforce when both parents are not on board. DH is totally fine with having DD1 play around on the floor while he goes over and sneaks bites of food into her mouth every so often. I think 3 is too old for this but it's hard to get DD1 to toe the line when she knows DH is totally happy to feed her while she plays. And when I do get her to sit at the table after thirty seconds she wants to sit on my lap instead of on her chair, and will throw a tantrum if I don't let her.
- Baby doesn't like the high chair: She is OK there for up to maybe 10 minutes if you give her things to play with (new ones every couple of minutes). After that she won't tolerate it any more, somebody has to be holding her and she is so squirmy and grabby it is really hard to eat that way.
So DH is right that dinner is better without the kids, because when they are there they are inevitably both wanting to sit on my lap at the same time, which makes it impossible for me to eat my dinner, which makes me super grumpy and negates the whole point of trying to have a nice family dinner.