I love family mealtime, all sitting together at the dinner table, but honestly, only around 75% of the time...
The whinging, the fighting, the declarations of love or detest of a particular food that was adored the week prior. It’s exhausting. But I promise you, the time spent at the family table eating together is worth it. Time and time again research supports that eating together as a family has remarkable benefits for children, not only from a nutritional standpoint, but from an emotional point of view too. It is the simplest and most practical way to be with your family and demonstrate how and what they should be eating. But how can we make it less stressful and more “yay” than “WTF, just eat the pea please”?
Here are a few suggestions…
Family style eating
I personally love a self-serving, buffet style of eating – think tacos, burritos, yum cha, European degustation of different foods. How does it work? Easy. You literally put the food onto the table and let everyone serve themselves. That. Is. It. Family style eating is perfect for a wide range of ages and as children have the control over their choice, you’ll be surprised by how well they choose. It also reduces stress amongst the parents (once we learn to let go, that is). You have provided a variety of foods from a range of food groups, just let the kids do the rest. It’s all about making mealtime fun and creative.
Ensure the kids are actually hungry
This sounds kind of ridiculous, but are they really actually hungry? Health professionals often talk about ensuring a two hour window between meals or snacks. What time did they have afternoon tea? This means no sneaky biscuits or even glasses of milk after around four-ish, if dinner is at six. If they are hungry, they are more likely to eat your spread, with less backchat.
Ensuring mealtime is at the table is important for many reasons, including the mindfulness of eating, respect for the chef, ensuring your food is digested well and socialisation. Yet keeping kids at the table, especially little ones, involves wartime strategy. From as soon as they start eating, eat the meals at the table (with you eating preferably too). If that isn’t part of your routine as yet, just start. Make it a family ‘rule’ so to speak.
If the child gets down and leaves the table, stay calm and remind them that if they want to eat dinner, it is at the table. Once they are in preschool they developmentally understand that meal times are at the table and eaten together as that is what happens at preschool too. For younger toddlers, it’s best to engage them in the meal time shenanigans, knowing when dinner will be ready, setting the table and then once they sit down, ensuring the food is there for them to eat. Toddlers are not the patient kind. If they are finished and their attention is waning, allow them to take their plate to the kitchen and be excused. But as long as they eat their meal at the table, that’s a win in my book!
Simply said and not always simply done. Breathe when the tension arises. And remember, they’re kids. How dare your two-year-old say no and throw food on the floor. They are two. How dare my teenager not talk and discuss his day. He is a teenager. Sometimes the mere act of getting everybody to the table and fed is enough. All the rest is icing on the cake. Breathe. You are doing an amazing job and they will remember it.
Mandy is a nutritionist and mum to three children. She has just written a children’s storybook called At My Family Table, which looks at four multicultural families and what their favourite meal is at their family table. You can find out more about Mandy and her book at www.littlepeoplenutrition.com.au. Mandy is also offering 25% off her new book to The Grace Tales readers. Just use the code GRACELPN25. The discount is illegible for The Grace Tales readers until 31st October 2017 and currently the book is only for sale in Australia.