by Amy Sung
We all talk about how to get kids to eat more vegetables or eat healthier in general. But, what about just getting them to the table… and having them stay there to enjoy that healthy meal you made for the family? Staci Sanford-Dever posed this question to us on DinnerTool.com’s Facebook page, and according to Richard Swearinger, senior editor of food and entertaining at Better Homes & Gardens magazine, she picked a perfect age for this question.
“Right around age five is when kids suddenly take delight in being helpful, so take advantage of this magical stage by asking him or her to help you in the kitchen,” Swearinger recommends. “Depending on your child’s dexterity, kids at five can help wash vegetables, tear up lettuce, husk corn, and butter bread with a non-sharp spreader.” The more they participate in prep, the more they’ll want to sit down at dinner; but only up to a point, Swearinger points out.
“Remember that five-year-olds have attention spans that are measured in minutes and seconds,” he says. “If you can get your child to sit down with you for five minutes, you’re doing very well, based on my experience.” The next issue to tackle is whether the dinner table is the best, most fun, most lively place to be at your house.
“Would you want to eat with you if you had a choice?” Swearinger asks. “If not, make some changes. Adding color to the table in the form of napkins, table runners, or placemats is the easiest way to make meals more fun. But also pay attention to your conversations. I have friends who enforce a strict “no-bummer” rule at dinnertime – you can talk about anything you want as long as it’s positive, informational, or funny. They never have a problem getting kids to eat with them.”
Cynthia Sass, registered dietitian and author of Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches, agrees that dinner needs to be engaging in order to capture and maintain a five-year-old’s attention. “Make dinner as engaging as TV or video games,” Sass explains. “Create themes for dinner conversations and let your child know what they are ahead of time.” The themes can be anything you think would spark your child’s imagination, from what superpower they would pick if they could wake up with one tomorrow to what they think they’ll be doing when they’re 18 years old, Sass suggests. “Think about the types of topics that make your child’s eyes light up and get the whole family involved in the conversation as you dine together.”
And, one last thing to think about in dining with your five-year-old is the fact that kids’ appetites work on a different schedule from adults, Swearinger advises. “Figure out when your child is at his or her hungriest, and then work toward a dinner hour that accommodates both kids and adults.”
Amy Sung is a Brooklyn-based food, travel, style and wellness writer and editor whose ultimate passion is writing about anything and everything to do with food. In addition toDinnerTool.com, her work has appeared in Every Day With Rachael Ray, New York Press, Clean Plates, iVillage.com and SpaFinder.com, among other publications and websites. Follow her on Twitter at @amy_sung.