Mealtimes are very important for children, because they help to show children the importance of eating food regularly.
When your children are very young, they tend to be fed on a “when hungry” basis, but as they grow older, it is important to introduce regular mealtimes with your family. As well as helping them to understand the importance of food, these mealtimes can be used as social occasions where the whole family can spend time together enjoying each other’s company.
Although prior engagements may get in the way sometimes, you should always try to eat meals together as a family.
Try to adapt your schedule and your partner’s schedule so that your children are able to spend the meal with both parents. If one of you is routinely missing mealtimes, you may want to consider why the problem is happening and see if you can take any steps to address this.
Studies have shown that children are more likely to misbehave during mealtimes if they do not think that it is an important time of the day. Failure to maintain a regular routine can suggest to young children that parents believe that mealtime is unimportant or non-essential.
Encourage conversation with each other and talk about what has happened to you during the day. Take a real interest in what your children are talking to you about. Conversations like this will help your children to improve their social and conversational skills, as well as helping them to build their vocabulary.
In order to help your child to develop a positive relationship with lots of different types of food, make sure that you introduce a wide variety of foods to your child at an early age.
A recent supermarket study of British families showed that most families have on average 2.25 meal choices every night for their evening meal, either because they know the recipe off by heart, or because their family has restrictive taste preferences. Expose your children to a lot of different tastes and flavours early on to encourage them to enjoy more foods. You may have to serve a food several times before your child starts to accept it. Do not be concerned if their tastes change over time, as this is a very natural part of childhood.
In addition to their personal enjoyment of food, building variety into your child’s diet will also help you to make sure that you are able to help them to get all of the nutrients that they need to maintain a healthy body. It is important that you stay aware of their current nutritional needs, because their needs will change as they grow.
Try to get your children more involved with meal times if possible, because interaction helps to provide them with valuable social stimuli. Helping to prepare for and clean up after mealtimes can also help to teach children about personal responsibility.
Ideas to get children involved can range from chores like laying the table or clearing the plates away afterwards; through to helping to prepare simple food items. Fun preparation tasks for younger children can include things likes spinning the salad in a salad spinner, and choosing and arranging toppings for pizzas.
Infants will need a lot of support during mealtimes, but you should encourage independence in children as they get a little older. Make it as easy as possible for them to be independent by filling your dining table with things that they can use without having to ask for help. Special children’s cutlery and crockery is available for little ones, which are easier to hold and use.
Put out small serving bowls of condiments so that they can serve themselves without risking too much food wastage. Plastic drinking cups with handles help to reduce the risk of spillages and they will not get damaged if they are dropped by accident. Your children will love brightly coloured items.
Dealing with Messy Eaters
Children can be messy eaters whilst they are still learning how their bodies work. Children often lack coordination skills when they are very young, so you should expect some drips and drops over the course of the mealtime. Prepare children with a bib and choose a wipe-down table cloth if you are concerned about the possibility of marks and stains.
If your children are being deliberately messy, you can discipline them as appropriate, but you should not tell your children off for accidental spills or dropped pieces of food. If something does get spilled, get them involved in the clean-up process, so that they will understand how to clean up after themselves in future. Knowing the hard work that goes into cleaning up can help your children to understand the importance of not spilling food.