A family who eats together, stays together. Unfortunately in the UK only around 40% of families sit together at least 3 times a week. Technology, work schedules and plans are all to blame.
Family mealtimes are about more than just eating food. It’s a time social interaction between families which can help babies and toddler develop many skills to use in life. Child psychologists and nutritional experts both agree that family mealtimes are one of the most important times of day for children.
Importance of Family Mealtimes
So just what can your child learn from family meal times? These are the most important lessons you can reinforce every day during a meal.
The feeling of togetherness is created when you all sit around the family table. Your baby can learn that dinner time is a great way to share stories about your day. It help you to understand your family members, learn their interest and hear their stories.
Your child has numerous role models to demonstrate how to use cutlery to feed themselves. Babies love to copy what those around them do. If they see their parent and siblings using cutlery they get curious and want to do it too.
It’s important to teach your children manners from an early age. Using manners at the dinner table is one of the first places they can learn to say please and thank you. Other manners you can teach by example are:
- Excusing yourself from the table
- Elbows off the table
- Eating with your mouth closed
- No reaching over other foods
- Using napkins
It’s import to discuss how table manners may change for different settings. This gives you a chance to discuss manners in a calm environment with questions being encouraged, rather than during a formal sit down meal.
Seeing other family members eating healthy, balanced meals makes it the norm to them. It gives them a good understanding of why they need to eat healthy food. Eating together also lets your children learn about what foods are good to eat on a regular basis and which should be eaten as an occasional treat.
Family bonding is encouraged through conversation, and this can really help your child advance their verbal skills. Meal times are great for teaching children about
- Appropriate conversations
- Not interrupting
- Not talking over others
- No shouting
Meal times are a great way for them to learn new words about the environment, such as “fork”, “plate” etc. Keeping with the theme of bonding, it’s a good habit to keep the conversation as positive and upbeat as possible. Your child will learn to encourage others and you’ll soon start to see their own little sense of humour develop.
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Tips for Successful Family Meals
Understand that you’re not always going to be able to sit down together due to other commitments. Missing a family meal on the odd occasion is fine, just don’t let it become a habit. Make sure the family knows not to make any plans during mealtimes. Don’t arrange to meet friends, plan meetings or join a club. If you can’t get the family together at least once a day, try seeing if your other plans can be more flexible around your meal time and make that the priority.
Change it up
Your family meal doesn’t have to be at dinner time. If you find it really difficult to get everyone together for your main meal, try having breakfast or lunch together. Switching it up won’t make it seem like such a chore. You might actually be surprised by how much your children look forward to their family breakfasts.
Don’t load yourself down by doing everything yourself. It’s a sure-fire way to feel unappreciated by your family. Get everyone involved by giving them a task such as preparing vegetables, setting the table or washing up. This installs the importance of teamwork from a young age.
Family mealtimes won’t always be the picture perfect scene you see in the movies. Disruptions and distractions can lead to stress and arguments breaking out. Check out our top tips for minimising these common pitfalls.
- Turn off the technology – The includes the TV, phones, I-pads games consoles etc. they are all conversation killers.
- No schoolwork – any homework should be done before or after mealtimes, not during.
- Put pets away – Animals love their food as much as we do. Put them away whilst you have your meal so they don’t mooch for scraps.
- No phone calls – If the phone rings leave it to go to the answer machine. If the call is important they can leave a message. Make sure your other family members know not to call you around mealtimes for a chat.
- Keep friends at bay – Your kids should inform their own friends when is safe to call by to go out and play.