Many parents don’t realize how much eating meals together as a family helps their children’s development and well-being in addition to being known to reduce the risk of obesity and improve the nutrition of children. Eating meals together is a valuable lesson and practice in sharing. By eating the same foods, hearing about someone else’s day, and telling stories, kids learn to compromise and show respect. Sitting around the table with the family is a great setting for children to see how they are a part of something bigger than just themselves.
When you have young children, it is a key time to start eating meals as a family and develop this lifetime habit. Even babies old enough to sit in a high chair but not old enough to eat everything everyone else is eating will benefit from joining the family at the table.
Here are some tips to make mealtimes more pleasant with young ones:
- Have children help to set the table, prepare the meal, and clean up as they are able.
- Turn off the TV and set phones aside so that no one is distracted from the meal or from each other.
- Don’t allow children to complain about the food, but teach them to say “no thank you” or “yes please” when offered food.
- Ignore temper tantrums. Set expectations for behavior at the table, and if these are not being followed, children should leave the table until they are ready to behave.
- Don’t be a “short order cook”. Provide meals with at least one food you know your child will eat. Family meals are a great time to continually introduce your child to different foods so your child will be less likely to be a picky eater.
- Remember that you are responsible for providing the food, but your child is responsible for how much he or she eats. This will avoid a lot of conflict at mealtimes and will allow your child to learn to follow his or her own hunger and fullness cues.
Eating family meals together most of the time does take work and commitment. It may require letting go of some of the other commitments that keep your family running non-stop to allow time to just be together and share nourishing food and conversation.