The five family mealtime traditions ready for a comeback

Eating together with your children sounds good and you’ve got friends with families who seem to have them most nights of the week but it hasn’t ever hit a high spot in your family.

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You’ve made New Year’s resolutions, used bribery to get your children up to the table, and still you’ve found a number of your ‘special family dinners’ have ended with tears and meltdowns. It doesn’t thrill you knowing that you might be missing out on something worthwhile but it’s never felt like you have got past the negatives.

So if family meals are going to take shape in your family, here are five ingredients for this tradition to become a highlight amongst those you treasure – whatever the shape, resistance or the predictable challenges in front of you. If you blend these ingredients together, stick at it for long enough, you just might be on your way to enjoying an age-old tradition that’s still worth its weight in gold.

1. Set the table

I’m a fan of eating meals at the table – away from the kitchen bench where you can still be stacking the dishwasher or cleaning the bench. Setting the table really makes this event special. The places are set out, the cutlery laid and young children respond positively to the structure and the routine before them. There’s an expectation that the meal is going to happen, that sitting together is on its way, and that the big people have a plan and are leading the way.

2. Get the kids helping

When children contribute to the meal in some way, there’s a positive expectation built in. Having children help in the garden and pick a lettuce, some blueberries, herbs or a lemon for the dressing, all helps children feel like they have contributed. That’s why having them in the kitchen despite the extra hassle, is useful. Little children can mix some ingredients together or chop some cucumber with a blunt knife. Older children can own part of the meal like the sauce, the dessert or making the salad.

3. Show some gratitude

Somebody prepared the meal, someone bought the food and saying thank you is a great way to show your appreciation. Some families say grace and thank God, some families thank those who have contributed to putting the meal together. Whatever you do, the show of appreciation is a key ingredient in helping families divert their attention towards words that are kind and gracious rather than a grumble.

4. Parents, take the lead

It’s easy to give this one away with the hope that the more children choose, the more they will eat what they have asked for. This can work when children are older, but for young children, mum or dad makes this decision. It’s one of the areas that parents have the wisdom and insight for. They can make decisions based on health, budget, variety and what’s in the fridge. Children don’t yet have the capability for this, but will as they mature. To add some fun, let the ‘leader of the week’ choose the special Friday or Sunday night meal.

5. Atmosphere is everything

They say that children remember what their childhood ‘felt’ like more than the achievements and presents they got. Mealtimes are remembered for the way it felt like more than what was eaten and who had the best manners. The key to cultivate a good atmosphere are – great things to talk about, expressions of appreciation, and a good dose of family fun.

Manners can be reinforced through playful interactions rather than growling. Sharing the highs and lows of the day is a wonderful way for each person on the family to feel significant and that they belong. It takes time for this tradition to bed down and become a special part of your family. Keep your eyes on the prize and remember it takes 21 days to develop a new habit.


About Author

Jenny Hale

Jenny Hale is our Senior Family Coach and we’ve been lucky enough to have her on our team for 19 years now. Once upon a time, Jenny was a teacher. These days, she spends her time supporting our team of Family Coaches, training new ones, and travelling around the country talking in preschools, schools and churches. She loves working with families and helping them find solutions to the challenges they face with behaviour and parenting. Jenny has been married to Stuart for 40 years and adores being a grandma to her grandkids (who live just 1km away). She needs a support group so she can stop buying books for them. She’d love to raise free-range chickens, write children’s books and perhaps even take up horse-riding again.

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