Children in today’s hurried, high-tech world need structured, routine times when they can connect with their parents and siblings. One of the best ways to do that is family mealtimes. Many of us are so busy that we may feel if we are not multi-tasking all the time, we are not productive enough. We often multitask feeding our children by putting a meal down in front of them and then turning around to do dishes, move over a load of laundry, or take a phone call. Don’t. Family meals are an important part of bonding your family together and a great opportunity to interact and let everyone know they that are loved and valued.
During this often challenging, COVID-19 pandemic, families have been sheltering in their homes all together. This might be the perfect time to institute or improve your family meals. Here are a few tips:
It doesn’t have to be fancy. What you eat is not as important as being together. Set up a schedule for meals and snacks, and stick to the schedule. This gives everyone a sense of security and something to look forward to during the day. Keep it simple.
Don’t Pressure your Kids to Eat
Pressuring your children to eat can cause anxiety and frustration in both you and your child. This makes family meals unpleasant and stressful. Teach your children they can politely decline foods by saying “no thank you”. Follow the Division of Responsibility in Feeding [Ellyn Satter Institute]. You are responsible for “what”, “when” and where” your family eats. Your kids are responsible for “how much” and “whether” to eat.
Eliminate All Distractions
The purpose of family meals is to build relationships NOT to get food down your children Turn off the TV. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t bring your cell phones to the table. This precious time belongs to your family and no one else.
Be Good Company
Try not to focus on what your children are or are not eating. Instead, talk about what is interesting to them. Share ideas, feelings. Tell funny jokes. ENJOY each other! The more your children see family meals as something that is enjoyable and stress-free, the more likely they are to eat and try new things.
Creating new habits with your family can be difficult and confusing at times. Don’t set your expectations too high. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Build on what you are already doing. If your family is eating 1 – 2 dinners a week together, try for 3-4. If your family is eating dinner every night together, see if there are ways you can improve the experience.
Remember, the purpose of family meals is family togetherness and bonding. It is not the time to discipline, air grievances, be confrontational or pressure anyone to eat. Help your child form healthy life-long habits around eating by making your family meals a happy, stress-free environment where your children can be free to eat and grow in a way that is right for them.