We all tend to lead hectic lifestyles, juggling work, family and social commitments. With so much to keep on top of in our daily lives, managing to prepare and eat a meal can sometimes be a bonus – let alone enjoying the experience in the company of your nearest and dearest.
It can often be quite tricky to eat with little children as bedtime routines may clash with the evening arrival of a working parent. Likewise, with older children and teenagers, various after school activities tend to fill a family’s schedule with ferrying to and fro between clubs and sports practice a difficult schedule to balance.
Although time may feel tight, it’s important to remember that young children learn much about the world through watching and imitating other people. It’s normal for an adult to prepare food for another family member while a young child eats alone. So perhaps on occasion, redress the balance and act as a role model. Sit with your children so that they can observe you eating a variety of foods in a healthy and happy atmosphere. This will encourage them to feel safe and comfortable to do the same and will nurture healthy eating habits from a young age.
You don’t need to prepare a lavish lunch or lay the table with one of your finest dinner sets. A simple meal together is all it takes to foster feelings of belonging and unity. Eating as a family encourages communication and allows for news to be shared, plans made and attention to be given to every individual. Mealtimes also provide the best opportunity for developing appropriate social behaviour. In a relaxed and convivial atmosphere you can lead by example and impart social skills, meal etiquette and model manners.
Alongside your children’s tried and tested healthy and nutritious favourites, you can also introduce new foods for your family to try. It can take several exposures to new tastes for a child to accept them, so do so steadily and without coercion or bribery. Include foods from other cultures and countries too; this will expand your child’s experience and encourage interest and inquisitiveness.
Research has shown that eating with your children as they get older can help to prevent destructive behaviours so it’s worth scheduling in this time to spend together. Shared mealtimes can create a sense of familial identity, establish traditions and ease tensions - so round up the troops and reap the rewards!