In my post The Importance of Family Meals I shared the reasons to consider making family meals a priority. As a mom, I know and have hosted some disastrous family dinner parties with my three boys. Temper tantrums, food refusals, tears, yelling and early dismissals. To help make family meal times fun, including boundaries and a set of family rules or meal time rules that work for your family. Check our these family dinner time rules by Jill Castle.
Here are Three Ways to Help Make Family Mealtimes Fun Again!
Ideally, meal time should be an enjoyable time for the whole family. You want to set a calm and engaging environment. This is the time to take all electronics, toys and any other distractions away from the kids (and parents too). Turn off the television and you may even need to put the family pet away if they are too distracting. Your children are more likely to behave when they come to the table hungry and are able to concentrate on eating food without distractions. You want to take advantage of your time together and make the most of it!
Collaborate as a Family
Make meal time a team affair with the kids. Get the kids involved with the process: meal planning, cooking, setting up and even cleaning up. This may give them a sense of value, unity and purpose with having a routine to follow. At our house, we have started serving our meals family style and every child needs to choose a small or a big spoon to put some of each food item offered on their plate. They DO NOT HAVE to eat it, but are continually exposed to foods they may or may not like… yet. We also start our meal with a signal some families may light a candle, sing a song or pray, we declare our thanks for our food and then the meal begins. To signal the end of the meal everyone remains seated (if under 3 for at least 15minutes) at the table until bellies are full (with each child deciding how much they want to eat) and then each child brings their plate to the counter. This provides the expectations of how a child is meant to behave at the table making a pleasant meal time a better possibility. Let’s be honest here there will be temper tantrums, food refusal and undesirable a behaviour but when a child understands what is expected it becomes easier for them to follow along and concentrate on the taste at hand… eating.
Many clients I work with come to me because they are finding meal times stressful and a battle where no one enjoys their food. As the cook nothing can be more upsetting then when your child or partner come to table and scorn the meal you worked so hard to make. I’ve experienced my 6 year old looking at a meal (one he has eaten before) and simply saying out loud “Yuck” just by looking at it. Makes you want to sit down as a family right? My response is usually “You don’t have to eat it, but this is what is on the menu tonight.” Since it is my job to offer the food and his job is to decide how much he wants to eat. It is important for a child to respect the cook and what has been made, and respect other table members likes and dislikes. Some common phases we use are “Don’t Yuck my Yum” or “You get what you get and you don’t get upset, ” without the pressure to eat. The expectation remains that everyone MUST come to the table.
How to Make Family Meals Possible
With our busy schedules, sharing a meal with family can be difficult but there are ways to make it easier. Plan ahead with choosing when family meals can happen, even starting with one family meal a week is a great place to start. Setting boundaries and expectations will help to improve the meal time environments to ensure everyone at the table is respectful.
Meal planning may be another way to make family meals easier. In the next couple of articles, we will talk about the importance of meal planning and how to do it. Meal planning can be a great way to plan ahead, reduce stress and increase the ability to eat together as a family!
“Meal planning is a key strategy for families to increase the frequency of family meals” – Alberta Milk
A special thank you to Rebecca Yoshida who co-authored and provided significant contributions to the content of this post.
Harrison, M.E., Norris, M.L., Obeid, N., Fu, M., Weinstangel, H., & Sampson, M. (2015). Systematic review of the effects of family meal frequency on psychosocial outcomes in youth. Canadian Family Physician, 61(2), e96-e106..
Hennessy, E., Dwyer, L., Oh, A., & Patrick, H. (2015). Promoting family meals: A review of existing interventions and opportunities for future research. Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics, 115.
Scaglioni, S., Cosmi, V. D., Ciappolino, V., Parazzini, F., Brambilla, P., & Agostoni, C. (2018). Factors Influencing Children’s Eating Behaviours. Nutrients, 10(6), 706.