4 tips on how to make mealtimes pleasant for every member of the family.
Most of us have heard about the benefits of family dining, for both the adults and for children.
However, children often struggle to stay at the table during a meal, and so here are some ideas for making dinner time less distracting and more cohesive for all concerned:
1. Have realistic expectations.
If everyone in your home is on different schedules, you are unlikely to be able to have a family dinner every night. Therefore, try to set aside one night a week where everyone can be there at the same time and can be involved in the meal. You need to make this time together a priority, and the meal itself is secondary.
2. Everybody needs to feel involved.
Each member of the family should have an opportunity to contribute to the set up and clearing of the meal. The specific roles alloted to each family member will depend on the ages of the children, but they can be as simple as, "take your plate to the table ", or as sophisticated as "please chop some vegetables." Once at the table, everyone should have their regular seat. If someone isn't there for the dinner, their seat is left empty.
3. Once at the table, the focus shouldn't be food.
The idea of mealtimes as a family is to allow the opportunity for bonding and building of relationships. This means using the time you have – be it 20 minutes or 1 hour – to talk about things happening in each of your lives.
Ask your children about their days with questions that can't be answered with a yes or a no, for example: "who did you play with today at break time?" or "What was your favourite lesson?" Don't be afraid to also share facets of your day with your children in an age appropriate way and maybe even relate it to them, for example, "Guess who I saw today – Grandma."
When chatting with your children, try not to worry too much about what they are actually eating and for fussy eaters, you may find that taking the focus away from the food actually distracts them enough to eat a bit more.
4. No screen time.
Whether you are eating as a whole family or not, it is a good idea to make the dinner table a screen free zone. For older kids, it is a break from homework and for younger ones, they will not focus fully on what they are eating if they are trying to watch something.
Even if your kids eat separately from each other, or from yourself due to schedule conflicts, it is a good idea to be around during dinner time (if possible) and give your child an opportunity to fill you in on their day and catch up about what is happening tomorrow.
Do you eat together as a family? What benefits do you think it brings?