When you think of the family table, we all have the image of a happy family, eating and laughing together. Which may make you LOL it's so far from your dinnertime reality right now. I have 3 kids, so I get it (and our meals rarely look like this photo-shoot pic!).
You might have a hard time just getting food on the table, to start. Or avoiding fights, battles and tears because your kids won't eat. Or even just getting everyone together at the table, schedule-wise may be a challenge!
Today I'll touch a bit on how to end the dinnertime battles and providing some structure and routine. But I'm mostly going to chat about WHY it's worth this effort to get your family to the dinner table together.
First of all, to define "family meals," this includes eating together at least 5 times per week. At least one caregiver with the kids. If one parent is not present or you are a single parent, you STILL get these benefits by sitting down with your kids yourself.
1) The Stats on family meals:
Eating together (and hence conversing) as a family improves language development in toddlers and preschoolers.
Adolescents who have regular family meals not only:
- have a more nutritious diet, but
- get better grades in school,
- have healthier relationships and
- are less likely to be involved in risky activities like drugs, smoking and alcohol use.
Family meals are more important to an older child's self-esteem and confidence than income levels, after-school activities, family structure (one parent or two), or religion! Wow. If you could provide this to your kids, would you? Of course.
2) Family meals develops your child's relationship with food:
This is more in relation to the dynamics of the family meal, and ending the arguments about eating dinner or veggies. Because nobody has an appetite when they come to the table, knowing it's going to be a fight. Our stress hormones are high and physiologically, we don't feel like eating.
A healthy relationship with food will prevent some picky eating, struggles with emotional eating, weight and eating disorders down the road.
A child who comes to the table without pressure to eat, will be more likely to have a healthy relationship with food. On the other hand, a child who comes to the table and gets force fed, pressured, bribed or threatened to eat (regardless if they are hungry), will have more struggles with eating.
This is why it's so important to take the focus OFF of the food and how much your children have eaten. Kids know their appetite best, and it's a great skill to keep. Yes, this is a HUGE leap and mind shift for lots of parents. If you want more support with this, email me to join the wait list for my End Picky Eating group coaching program.
3) Family meals can develop your child's taste for different foods: Kids will eventually learn to eat the types of foods that they are repeatedly exposed to. So if they are always fed 'kid-food' like chicken fingers and KD, then that's what they will like!
Some kids do really have sensory or physical issues that prevent them from eating certain foods. But most others are fed what they want, because the parents are afraid they will starve or wake up hungry in the middle of the night. I'm giving you permission here to stop being the short-order cook, and make one meal for the whole family!
Caveat: I'm not against take-out night, or saying the food always has to be homemade or fancy! Simple is fine. Along with a side of veggies - frozen or from a bag is ok ;)
4) Family meals are a chance to connect:
Many of the stats I talked about earlier aren't to do with the food. It's to do with the family unit, and connecting. And the dinner table is one of the best places to do this.
Around the table, kids can learn how conversation works. One person talking and the others listening. And taking turns. Make the conversation about something other than the food - like what happened during everyone's day.
One conversation starter we love to do is to go around and share our "highs and lows" from the day at our dinner table.
5) Family meals create memories & traditions
I think many of our own childhood memories are probably from the dinner table. Especially for holidays. It's an awesome place to create memories and traditions that your child may carry forward to their kids. Even if it's something simple like taco Tuesday, pizza Friday or kid's- make- dinner- Saturdays.
I hope that has convinced you to either have more regular family meals . Or if your family meals are full of food fights, to try and make them more peaceful and take the focus off of the food.
Want to grab my 15 quick family dinner recipes for busy nights? Click here.
Jennifer House is a Registered Dietitian, author & mom of 3. From Baby-led weaning to picky eating and meal planning, she helps you to make feeding your family easier