Our lives are pretty hectic, and eating can quickly become just a way to re-fuel rather than sitting down to enjoy a meal as a family.
But with a little planning, relaxing mealtimes (even if just once a week) can be achieved. These offer a range of benefits for you and your little one, let’s take a look at these first!
Why share mealtimes?
Sharing a meal with family or friends is a great time to chat, bond and reflect on the day.
Positive eating habits when established at a young age can continue into adulthood, so it’s a great idea to incorporate this into your weekly routine as early as possible.
Mealtimes bring other benefits as well, including:
It will allow you to model positive behaviours like table manners, your little one will absorb this information and copy what you do.
You’ll be able to better monitor how much and how well your child is eating and drinking.
Your little one will be more likely to eat fruit and veg (as long as everyone else around them is enjoying them too).
The comfort of sharing meals can be good for both your and your little one’s mental health.
Shared mealtimes help to develop your child’s social skills as they interact in conversation.
This will also boost their vocabulary.
Creating a routine
Establishing a routine when it comes to mealtimes is a great way to maintain the habit.
Having regular mealtimes creates a sense of rhythm and regularity in your little one’s life which brings comfort and feelings and security/familiarity.
Ideally, families would share breakfast and evening meals together every day, but most of the time this just isn’t feasible.
Start by trying to plan one or two shared family meals together a week, try starting over the weekend if that’s convenient for your lifestyle.
During days when it’s not possible to sit down together, still try to sit down with your little one and chat with them as they eat. This can still have a positive impact on their vocabulary, socials skills and more.
Tips to actually enjoying a shared mealtime
Even when you manage to schedule in a family mealtime, it might not go to plan! Here are some tips to help keep things relaxed.
Give your little one a small healthy snack when you get home from the nursery to reduce their hunger.
Keep meals simple so that they can be prepared easily – planning these in advance can help.
Get your little one involved in the meal prep! Click here for our guide to cooking with your child.
Give your little one a 5-minute warning so they know it’s almost time to eat, giving them time to wash their hands before sitting at the table.
Make eating the focus of mealtimes, keeping distractions like toys, tv etc. to a minimum.
Use mealtimes for happy, positive chats rather than discussing negative parts of the day.
Remember, sitting for too long can make your little one irritable so be sure to not drag out meals.
Is your little one refusing to eat?
It can be disheartening to put time and effort into planning, preparing, and cooking a meal only for your child to refuse to eat it.
If/when this does happen be patient and consider the following:
They may want more control over what they eat. Allow your little one to make simple choices e.g., carrots or peas.
The portion size may be overwhelming them, think about serving less and asking if they’d like seconds.
Is your little one too tired to eat and should have their meal earlier?
Are they just not hungry? Too many snacks? Or perhaps too much food at the nursery?
Encourage your child to try a small nibble of food they are uncertain of to expose them to new flavours. Praise them for trying but don’t make them eat it all if they don’t like it.
Don’t force your child to clear their plate, if they didn’t eat a lot, they will most likely make up for it later.