We have all envisaged those nights where family mealtimes are blissful, everyone with large smiles, chatting about how great the day was and eating a 3-course homemade meal.
The reality though is most of the time mealtimes your family is busy, you are still cleaning up the mess monsoon your kids have left and now the kids just want chicken nuggets because broccoli is just too green.
By creating enjoyable mealtimes for you and your children it will have a lasting impact on your child (and your sanity). Children learn healthy eating habits and positive attitudes toward food at the dinner table, so these mealtimes matter. Consider these ideas to help create a mealtime that works for your family.
Remember Eating Is A Social Time
You have most likely heard about no phones at the dinner table, but if you dig a little deeper into this you find that creating a positive social environment has big rewards. If you focus on positive conversations everyone around you relaxes and feels comfortable. Showing your enthusiasm for healthy foods signals to the family this something they should embrace as well, if you make it feel like a chore, your child will sense that it is one.
Help Children Help Themselves
Encouraging your child to take an active role in serving themselves means that they are learning about healthy choices, about portion sizes and exploring new flavours.
Try thinking about using serving utensils that are the right size for your kids (small tongs, small spoons), this could also include different coloured utensils just for them for a special touch (Bonus: it will help them learn all the different utensils).
Making food into bite size or finger foods also helps remove barriers for children to try new foods. Finally, if mess is made, great! Think of it as another opportunity for children to learn, especially about hygiene and safety.
The 5 Senses
Food isn’t just about the way things taste. The way foods sound, smell and feel all trigger the way our brain thinks and responds to that food. Start the conversation with your children about what smells they like or how does your mouth feel when eating different foods. Use your child’s senses to help guide and plan meals, for example if your child likes crunchy foods like chips, add crunchy vegetables to the menu or if the smell of fresh baked goods makes them excited try veggie muffins.
Rinse and Repeat
Studies have shown children are more sensitive to certain tastes, sights and smells compared to adults. This doesn’t mean you should give up when your child doesn’t eat their peas! These studies have also noted that tastebuds are constantly changing in children, and by providing repetitiveness in the diet the more likely you will accept foods as your tastebuds adapt to the tastes. By having the table set up for self-serving and continually placing healthy foods in front of them, lets your child know healthy food is normal part of the meal and should be present at every meal.
One Thing At A Time
Think about all the new things you have done today, and then think about all the new things your child has learnt about. The amount of information your child takes in is exhausting just thinking about it. When introducing new things at mealtimes, try for one thing at a time to make things easier on your child and yourself. This could be a new flavour, new ingredient or new routine like setting the table once it has become part of a pattern try something new to add. Also keeping to one family meal, at the same time every day, helps build an environment where your family comes to the table eager for mealtimes.