by Emily Barker
There are many benefits to eating together as a family including stronger family bonds, better nutrition and portion sizes, emotional nurturing and a sense of belonging. Kids get to be themselves, feel comfortable and build confidence. It also gives your family a chance to unwind and connect with each other after a busy day. Studies show that kids who eat with their families are less likely to get involved with drugs or alcohol. But what happens when your child doesn’t like to eat, has special needs or is an extremely picky eater and mealtime is anything but stress-free?
For our family, meal time is not the norm. We have a child with Russell Silver Syndrome, a rare genetic growth disorder. As part of this syndrome, our son’s brain doesn’t register hunger the same as it does for you or I. As a result, he was fed via a g-tube in his stomach for 8 years to ensure he was consuming adequate calories for growth and development. For him, eating is a chore and not a pleasurable experience. That stuffed, I can’t-eat-another-bite feeling after Thanksgiving dinner is what he feels each and every day.
Typically in our family, we sit down to a meal and most of the family is finished within 20 minutes. It is just about that time when our son with Russell Silver Syndrome gets started on his meal. He is a notoriously slow eater and it used to bother us greatly and we would prompt and nag him to eat. Mealtime would quickly escalate from being an enjoyable experience to one filled with stress for everyone involved.
However, the WAY you eat is just as important as what you eat. Digestion is greatly improved if one actually sits down to dinner, relaxes and enjoys the food without conflict. When digestion is improved, the absorption of nutrients is also enhanced. It is important to be mindful of how you are eating. It makes all the difference! And when you are focusing on what your child is or is NOT eating, it will cause stress and impede digestion for everyone at the table. Instead, as we’ve learned to do, just allow them the time they need to eat. We often set a timer and that seems to motivate him to finish by the allotted time.
Your child may have another special need which could be impacting their ability to focus on the meal and causing anxiety for those around him. It is important to find a solution that will reduce tension at the dinner table and bring you back to the main reason you are there in the first place, which is family connection and bonding time.
Emily Barker is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor who teaches busy women to prioritize their health and how to raise healthy eaters. Through her nutritional counseling programs, her clients learn simple and healthy solutions for a better health and a more connected family. Emily can be reached at www.eattothrive.com, www.facebook.com/eattothrive or @eattothriveheal