Our children have left home now but I look back at what we did as a family and what worked well and would be worth repeating if we were given another chance at it. There are some things I wouldn’t bother doing again, but eating together as often as possible would definitely be on the agenda.
I feel alarmed when I hear what children often say about the meals prepared for them. “This is disgusting!” “I’m not eating this!” There are tears and tantrums, sulks and stomping. No wonder parents feel hurt and rejected when they have put time and effort into preparing a meal. I think there are some tips that can make meal times easier and more fun, but it takes a bit of courage and commitment to get them off the ground.
Some formality is necessary when eating together. Not harsh rules and regulations, but a set of ritual that hold the occasion of eating together in high esteem. You will find it much easier if technology is off for this family time and it helps if each child has a place mat that signifies their place at the table. A really good way to set this in motion is to start with four rules.
- When everyone is seated, someone says grace or says thank you to the person who cooked the meal. Each person could also thank this person for something on their plate. Children can easily default to criticising the meal but this serves as a prompt to be thankful and positive. If they forget, they can walk back to their rooms and come and try again. No big deal – it might take a day or two to get into the new habit and the other parent or friend who didn’t cook the meal can follow through on this.
- Have some nights where the children can choose three things from five choices. Children love to choose and be in control of something – and this acknowledges their independence and ability to think for themselves.
- Lots of children struggle with trying new foods. The one bite rule is simple. Your family rule is that you try the new food with one bite and leave it at that.
- If a child does not eat what they have, you simply put it to one side and if there is time before they go to bed, they can have another go at it.
To wrap this up as a pleasant experience, avoid getting into arguments. The atmosphere is so important. Have a few jokes, riddles or really interesting questions that everyone gets a turn to answer. And lastly, eating is normal and children eat better when they are not praised for doing so. A great comment to land on is simply, “You looked like you enjoyed your food tonight.”