Whether you have family together always, sometimes, or never, there is something here you need to hear. Family meals are important for so many obvious and some not so obvious reasons. I could rant about all the research to support family meals, but what speaks just as loud to me is my experience in nutrition counseling. A couple of my favourite meal time don’ts: I’m sorry, a new pool table is not reason for a throwing out a kitchen table or no or your 7 year-old daughter cannot prepare dinner for herself while you eat in your bedroom.
Meals support food regulation and appropriate growth, make you a family, support good parenting, provide children with social and emotional support, connect us to our history, reassure children they will be fed, teach children to behave well in polite company, and teach children to like a variety of food.
To make meal times rewarding: parents must choose food they find rewarding to plan, prepare, provide, and eat, offer everyone in the family the same meal, put four or five foods and let everyone pick and choose from what is on the table, match familiar with unfamiliar food, favorite with not-so-favorite, teach and expect your children to behave nicely, and understand enough about children’s normal eating behaviour to feel successful with feeding. Include infants at the table (even if they are not eating all the food), put meals before nutrition, control the food supply while allowing choices, and accept slow progress if you are starting family meals for the first time.
Once family meals are occuring, the next logical step is making the meals nutritious. The meal should provide four to five foods (protein source, grains or starchy foods, 1 or 2 fruits or a vegetables or broth, milk, and butter, margarine, salad dressing or other fatty foods. The key principle here is to be considerate without catering. Parents can do this by following these guidelines: don’t make (or expect) anybody to eat – even yourself, let children (and other people) pick and choose from what is on the table, and include enough fat. For example, “3 more bites and then you can have dessert”, encouraging certain foods for nutrition “eat all your brocolli”, or having forbidden foods ie. no chips, cookies. Goal is to have structure but the child still decides. If you would like more info on family meals, check out the book Your Child’s Weight Helping Without Harming Birth Through Adolescence by Ellyn Satter. What tips do you have that you’ve used with your kids?