Eating together as a family in a positive and engaging environment is the perfect opportunity for helping our kids learn healthy eating behaviours. The more relaxed and enjoyable mealtime is, the better the experience for everyone.
Family mealtimes are important, but we sometimes put too much pressure on ourselves. We find reasons why family mealtimes won’t work – we’re too busy, the kids are too tired or we still have work to do.
But a happy, healthy mealtime doesn’t have to be complicated or lengthy. Every family can create a positive environment that works with their lifestyle.
At mealtime, your child is developing important eating habits and skills. They need your guidance and support! Even if you can only spend 10 minutes sitting with your child while they are eating, give them your full attention – talk, smile, sing, play a talking game or tell stories. Turn off the TV, forget chores for that moment, and don’t multi-task. As you are enjoying your child’s company or noticing their good behaviour at the table, tell them. A little praise can go a long way, and spending this quality time with your child can also prevent negative attention-seeking behaviours.
Reminding your child of your expectations just before sitting down at the table can really help them to regulate their behaviours. Remember, kids mostly want to do the right thing… they just need little reminders. It’s a good idea to set simple, everyday mealtime rules for the whole family so that you can use those as reminders when needed.
If your child knows that you will not offer an alternative meal, they are less likely to try to negotiate. If they know that a tantrum at mealtime will result in time-out and missing out on family time at the dinner table, they will eventually learn to make more positive decisions about their behaviours. But don’t forget that it’s not all about dealing with the ‘bad’ behaviours… when your child is doing the right thing, praise and encouragement for those positive behaviours is just as important.
Ask your little ones to help in the kitchen. It doesn’t have to be a full cooking activity or an entire recipe. It can be as simple as washing a few vegetables, setting the table, stirring the pot or tasting to make sure it’s not missing anything! They will learn something along the way and feel good about being helpful. Kids also love to choose, so you can let them choose something for the menu or table setting. Make sure to let them know you really appreciate their help and wonderful ideas!
The weekly routine can get to all of us. As parents, we’re constantly planning and preparing meals. We’re often time-poor and tired, and meals can feel like Groundhog Day. So why not break the routine? It’s fun and it provides opportunities for kids to enjoy new experiences around food and to learn to be flexible. It shows children that eating is part of life and it allows them to participate in the making of special daily moments with their family.
Breaking the routine doesn’t have to be a big deal. You can try new foods, have a picnic in the lounge room, eat with chopsticks, play restaurant, have a candlelit dinner with music, or dress up. Breaking the routine can help us to reconnect and have a little fun as a family. If your child often shows fussy eating behaviours, a change of scenery is also a great way to break out of those behaviour patterns.
When it comes to creating positive mealtimes, do what you can and don’t worry about the rest. Little things done everyday can make a big difference. It may be playing ‘I spy’ while eating, the soft music in the background, or cooking with your child that sets the tone for a beautiful family moment where everyone can relax and enjoy eating together.