Eating together at the table is one of the simplest ways to connect as a family. Research suggests that children who eat at the table with their families are less picky, make healthier food choices and feel more connected to their family members. Family mealtimes also set the stage for open communication throughout your child’s life as it’s a setting where everyone is gathered together and everyone can be easily heard.
As nice as this sounds, it can be difficult to have a pleasant family mealtime with babies, toddlers and young children. Continue reading for some tips to put successful mealtimes on the menu!
Little kids love routines. The predictability soothes their ever-racing minds and gives them a sense of calm. Think about your current mealtime routines, maybe everyone eats separately or in front of the TV. Start by having your kids participate in preparing dinner, then sitting down to eat together, and then getting everyone involved in tidying up. This creates a new routine, which is especially helpful for kids who have stress around food and mealtimes.
Choose the right high chair for your baby
When buying your high chair look for features like adjustable footrest, adjustable height, higher weight limit, convertibility and easy-to-clean material. If you’d like your baby to sit at the table then choose a chair without a built-in tray table, like the Tripp Trapp (or its more affordable alternatives). If you’d like to give your baby their own space, perhaps to make it more difficult for older kids to give them unsafe foods, then a built-in tray table is a great option.
Change your expectations
When you think of having a family dinner you may imagine an idyllic scene where all the children are clean and the parents are smiling. By simply switching to a more realistic image you can remove a lot of stressful expectations from your mealtimes. Maybe one of the kids is dressed as Spiderman and the baby is throwing spaghetti. The important thing is everyone is coming together and you’re building a healthy habit for years to come.
It doesn’t have to be dinner
Your family’s schedule may not allow for everyone to come together every evening for dinner. Maybe breakfast every Sunday is more suitable for your family. Maybe you all have pancakes together on Saturdays. These seemingly-small traditions will be great memories for your children and offer time to reconnect and check in with one another.
Consider Baby Led Weaning
Once your baby is older than 6 months you can try Baby Led Weaning to make it easier to include them at mealtimes. With traditional weaning babies need to be spoonfed pureed food. With Baby Led Weaning your baby feeds themselves a modified version of whatever you’re eating. This method is great for developing fine motor skills, decreasing picky eating and allows your baby to be involved in family mealtimes. Keep in mind this method is messier, so it can be helpful to use a coverall bib.
Take the pressure off
If you have a picky child you may find yourself spending mealtimes bargaining with them to eat more. However, this can actually reduce the amount of food eaten at each meal. If your child wants to leave the table after two bites you could try saying “I hear you that you’re finished eating, but would you stay with us at the table, we really love spending time with you”. They may refuse, they may sit and chat, and they may even nibble some more of their food.
Remember why you’re doing it
Some days will feel more successful than others, but keep in mind all the reasons why you want your family to come together for mealtimes. It’s a habit which will have positive effects for years to come.