For Paula (and anyone else who might be interested). I hope something here might work for you.
When I was growing up, these were the mealtime rules at our house:
Everyone sat down and ate together. There had to be a really good excuse not to be at the dinner table.
Grace was said before the meal.
No ugly comments, gags, rude noises, or complaining allowed. (I didn't allow my children to do that, either.)
If anyone made a face and/or comment and/or did anything my mom and dad considered to be rude (including bad table manners that weren't corrected after a warning), that person made the next meal by his or herself - and did ALL the cleanup. (If the rude thing was done at dinner then dinner was the next meal that the culprit got to cook.) The meal had to be balanced and be made from scratch (no hot dogs or TV dinners allowed). If a game or practice or TV show was missed, too bad - homework still had to be done.
If we acted up at the table, we were not sent away. Our food would be removed from in front of us, and we had to sit and watch every one else eat. (If we straightened up and sincerely apologized, Mom would let us have a bread and butter sandwich and/or fruit before going to bed. She did not believe in sending us to bed hungry.)
If something new was served to us, we had to at least try it.
We had to eat at least a bite even if we didn't like something. (No one had food allergies so that couldn't be used as an excuse.)
If it was the main course (such as a casserole) we didn't like and wouldn't eat, we could fill up on what left over after everyone else had their fill. We could not get up and fix anything else to eat. The only time Mom cooked something different for us was when she served liver. (Mom disliked liver, too. lol)
We were not allowed to put salt on our food until we tasted it first.
We children almost always set the table (cloth tablecloth, napkins, milk in a pitcher, utensils in the proper place, food served in bowls on the table). If Mom forgot to ask us to put a condiment (ketchup, anyone?) on when we were setting the table, we had to quietly get it on the table before we sat down to eat. We did not get up to get it. Depending on what was being served, we might get away with asking if it was something every one at the table would probably want (for example: butter for rolls or potatoes, ketchup for hot dogs). We knew not to ask for anything to put on a T-bone steak!
We always thanked mom (or who ever) for the meal. We also learned to tell the cook that the meal was good or that we enjoyed a particular dish.
Everyone helped clear the table. Mom and I usually put the food away. We took turns doing the dishes. Someone swept the floor and wiped up spills. Someone else wiped counters and the stove. Many hands truly made light work - even if at the time we didn't think so and even if we did sort of trip over each other.
Almost every night one person would read out loud to the others who were cleaning the kitchen. (I realize now that there was more to this than just hearing what was being read. The parents could see how well we were learning to read, sound out words, grasp meaning from context, etc. This usually involved using dictionaries and encyclopedias. And, it kept us from getting into arguments about who was going to do which chore!)
This routine worked well. It only took once or twice to realize complaining wasn't worth the consequences. Eventually, we (the children) automatically started dinner when we got home from school.