The family dinner table may be one of the most underestimated places for improving your family’s eating habits and overall nutrition. For younger children, family mealtimes provide much-needed predictability and comfort. They also help develop your child’s language and communication skills, and give you an opportunity to coach and monitor their behavior. In fact, numerous studies have identified a higher frequency of family mealtimes as an important factor in avoiding childhood obesity.
Nutritionally speaking, kids who take part in regular family meals are more likely to eat fruits, vegetables, and less likely to snack on unhealthy foods. The path to healthier eating is a lifelong process; deciding to sit down for a meal today does not mean your child will stop eating junk food tomorrow. However, kids do pick up good eating habits by observing the positive nutritional examples that their parents set, which leads them to make healthier choices when they’re alone.
Of course, eating together as a family can be awkward, or even tense (especially if teens are involved), so here are some tips to help you make your mealtimes pay off.
Avoid the temptation to rush through the process. If your child is a toddler or a pre-schooler, you can develop their social and communication skills by singing, talking and stimulating their minds with stories at the dinner table.
Leave Out the Distractions
Turn off the computer, mobile phone and television during mealtime. They are not part of the family, and using these items at the table conveys a message that mealtimes – and the other participants – are not as important as these forms of entertainment.
Keep It Pleasant
One pitfall of modern parenting is that we find ourselves pressed to transmit all of our parenting messages for the day in the hour or so allotted for mealtimes. If you’re not careful, unpleasant issues and even punishments can overshadow this social time. This not only pushes aside the nutritional message, but all that pressure can also cause a family to associate eating together with negative feelings. Try for upbeat and relaxing conversations instead. This is a great opportunity for your family to share their experiences and understand each other a little more.
Make it a Group Effort
The prospect of a chaotic family dinner may not always seem worth braving Beijing rush hour traffic or turning down drinks after work. Just remember hat you and your child will reap the benefits of these small efforts for years to come. Mealtimes can be used to make important connections with your kids – providing two-way discussions don’t become one-way lecturing.
If you have an ayi preparing the meal, ask her to involve your child in the process. Bringing kids into the kitchen is the best way to teach them about food selection and preparation. This can be expanded to other activities – such as visiting the local open-air morning markets, and writing out shopping lists – that can help young children to connect with their food, and with you.