You have probably heard a hundred times that it is important to eat together as a family but it is not always as easy as it sounds.
- You might work late so the kids eat before you’re home.
- Your child may be transitioning from baby food to family foods.
- Someone in the family may require different food, for example if they have a food allergy.
- Or sometimes, it’s simply habits such as TV which destroy the family mealtime.
Learning to eat well needs to be learnt! If a child has no model, we can’t really expect them to understand how to eat well. We know that until adolescence, parents or main caregivers have the biggest influence on a child’s eating behaviour. So if you want your child to eat a variety of foods, to take pleasure in mealtimes, to regulate his / her appetite, it is important to provide opportunities for them to learn.
You may need to change your habits to be able to change your child’s habits. Here are some TIPS:
- Eat breakfast, even if it is simply some fruit or a couple of crackers. This will encourage your child to do the same. Spending a little time at the table each morning will not only start the habit of breakfast, but will also set the day up positively for your children, opening them to communication.
- Turn the TV off during mealtimes. TV can be a fantastic learning tool, but we all know that it is mesmerising. There is a time and place for everything and we should encourage mindful eating, not mindless eating!
- Serve the same meal to everyone where possible. The dinner table is not a restaurant and you are surely too busy to be making 3 or 4 different meals. It doesn’t matter if everything but it is important that meals are varied to encourage kids (and adults) to try new foods. You will get bored with eating ‘kids foods’ and they won’t learn to try new foods. Obviously, tone down the chilli and salt in cooking – add it at the table if necessary.
- Putting foods in the centre of the table can help to satisfy everyone. Each person can choose what they would like and how much of the foods on offer. Try not to be a control freak, trust your children to eat enough…and not too much. You choose what to put on the table and they choose how much to eat.
- Here’s the basic time frame of learning to eat:
- 0 to 6 months: milk
- 6 months to 1 year: milk + progression of solids
- 1 year of age: family meals largely unmodified. They should be able to manage all textures by 1 year of age, even without al their teeth!
- The next few years will be about learning about different flavours – the more kids are exposed to a food, the more likely they are to eat it.
If you are struggling with setting up family meals, if your child is overly fussy, or if you would like to learn more about appetite regulation and healthy eating, feel free to contact me.