Parents know how important family meals are, but all the worry about nutrition and weight gets parents and kids stuck. One mom said that in spite of all her effort to cook and coordinate schedules to get everyone at the table, dinner is, “ forty-five minutes of hostage negotiations.” Families give up on eating together when no one is happy at the table. Dinner might be delicious and nutritious, but if Mom says she “dreads” coming home from work to face dinner, the days of the family meal are numbered.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be so hard, and the great news is that when you can end the battles, and actually enjoy the food and each other, nutrition improves as well.
The number one tip that my clients say helps end the war is serving foods family-style. That means, put all the food out in plates and bowls in the middle of the table, and allow children and adults to serve themselves. (Helping small children as needed.)
When parents pre-plate, maybe try to get the MyPlate vision of veggies, starch and protein, battles erupt before everyone is even sitting down. “I don’t want that many beans!” or, “Mo-om! You know I don’t like when it touches!” Simply avoid this battle altogether…
Yes, your child will pass on the beans– for a while. But, with time, and if you can follow the Division of Responsibility (the parent decides what, when and where to eat, and the child gets to decide how much from what is offered) nutrition evens out. (Check out this post and comments for crazy sounding meals and snacks that added up to good nutrition at the end of the day.)
When you actually enjoy being at the table, when peace is restored, it makes the effort worth it, and easier to stick with. Don’t dread coming home from work to a green bean battle-ground. Call a truce. Enjoy family meals!
- Serve foods family-style.
- Observe the Division of Responsibility.
- Start with what you are eating now, but do it together. Worry about meal-planning and improving your cooking skills after you have the habit of pleasant family meals.
- Watch how nutrition evens out.
- Keep it pleasant. Avoid talking about bad grades or stressful topics at the table.
- Stop pressuring.
- kids who are pressured to eat more tend to eat less and grow less well
- kids who are pressured to eat fruits and veggies tend to eat fewer
- kids who are pressured to eat less tend to eat more and weigh more over time
Enjoyable family meals are sustainable family meals, and by now we’ve seen the research that kids who eat regular family meals are happier, tend to do better socially, and emotionally, wait longer to have sex, smoke and use drugs less..
Kids who eat with their parents also tend to have more stable weight, less disordered eating, and better nutrition. Feeling good about food and being at the table is the key to making it all happen. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!
Katja Rowell M.D is a family doctor and childhood feeding specialist. She blogs and is working on her first book addressing feeding challenges for adopting and fostering families. She helps families who are struggling with food and weight worries by phone and house-calls!
Readers interested in learning more about Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility are invited to register for her free two-part webinar, “Preventing Child Overweight and Obesity, Raising Children to be Competent Eaters,” which will take place on January 12th and 19th. You can learn more about this webinar and register here.