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With busy schedules, it can be challenging to get the whole family to sit down together around a delicious meal. But a regular family mealtime is worth the effort.
Benefits of family mealtimes
Whether it’s a nightly dinner or a special Sunday lunch, setting aside mealtimes where the family comes together gives everyone a chance to catch up and connect with each other. Your child can also learn a lot about food and eating by watching what you do at mealtimes.For younger children, eating with the rest of the family helps them learn good table manners and eating habits. It can also help your child learn to communicate, as he takes turns talking and listening. And watching the rest of the family dig in can encourage picky eaters to try new foods.
Here are some ways to make family mealtimes enjoyable.
Set aside regular times to eat together
When you put these times in your weekly schedule, you’re all more likely to be there. Having your meal at a table, with television and phones turned off, can make this time even more special. Children can help by setting the table and even decorating it with flowers from the garden or homemade placemats.
Sometimes activities are scheduled close to mealtimes. You can still eat together by taking a picnic or bag supper to the rec centre, hockey rink or soccer field.
Reduce the rush
Allowing around half an hour for the family meal gives your children plenty of time to eat. They’ll have the chance to try new foods and develop good eating habits. This also gives you time to relax, chat and enjoy your family.
Get everyone involved
Involving your family in choosing and preparing the meal increases the chance that they’ll eat it. It can also help picky eaters to try new foods.
Use mealtime as a chance to talk
Family meals can be a great way to keep up with what everyone’s doing. To avoid grunts or one word answers try asking questions that needs more than a yes-or-no answer. For example, ‘Tell me one cool thing that happened at school today’. Another idea might be for everyone to take turns sharing something good and bad about their day.
Encourage good behaviour
When your children use good manners tell them what they’re doing well. To reinforce good behaviours like saying “please” and “thank you” you could use stars on a chart, a coin in the piggy bank, or a song of success. Don’t use food, dessert or candy as rewards.
Be creative with mealtimes
When you have the time and opportunity, have some fun with mealtimes and give everyone a reason to be there. For example, you can:
- make breakfast your dinner by having eggs, pancakes and fresh fruit
- have a picnic, in your backyard or on the living room floor
- invite a special guest over for dinner, like a friend, grandparent or neighbour. This can also be a great way of getting to know your child’s friends
- create a meal with a theme – for example, food from another country, maybe a country with a language your child is learning at school
You can make family mealtimes something the whole family looks forward to.
© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.
Resources & Links:
Healthy Eating for Children
Healthy Eating: Helping Your Child Learn Healthy Eating Habits
Better Together BC: A hands on approach to family, food and fun
Healthy Canadians: Cooking with Kids