Family enjoying roast chicken around the dinner table

Do you eat meals with your kids?

   The family that eats together nurtures confident children

Meal time ideally is a time of family gathering, engaging in conversation where food is consumed around a table. Toddlers and children who grow up eating with the adults learn all sorts of valuable life lessons. Shared mealtimes teach our next generation acceptable mealtime behaviours and sets them up for healthy eating attitudes and wonderful social skills.

Kids model their behaviour on the people closest to them. Sharing relaxing and enjoyable meal times around a communal table without screen time, is possibly the most important window of opportunity in your day as a loving parent, no matter how busy the rest of your day is.  Eating mindfully can enable our minds and our digestive tracts to connect with our food. That’s why it is not ideal to offer children food, even snacks, in the street or in front of a screen.

Meal time is not really about nutrition. That might sound like a strange statement from a Nutritionist. If you plonk food in front of a child and put pressure on them to eat it all up because you know what is best for your child in terms of nutrition, it may lead to fussy eaters, children who refuse to eat what is ‘healthy’ for them. Further, if they are the only ones eating at the time, all the focus is on the food, not really on them. They have no sense of control or choice and no opportunity to learn from a role model.

Children are born with a capacity to self-regulate food intake. When they grow up sharing meal times with the adults, they become “confident eaters”. Confident eaters don’t need to eat too much. They won’t be inclined to overdo any particular food such as sugar, as long as they don’t see their parents doing that. They will grow up mindfully eating and it can become a lifetime habit.

Try giving your child a choice of everything that you are preparing for the family meal. This could be as a share plate or a number of dishes tali-style (Indian) or ‘service à la française’ (French). By having a choice, it is very likely that your children will try different foods that might surprise you. They may watch the adults and make good choices. But the most important thing is that meal time is about conversation, family bonding, sharing.

They can be involved in the menu choices for the day or the week, even the shopping list, from a surprisingly young age. Getting the children to help in the preparation and serving of meals can set the scene for much fun, establishing life skills, good habits and most of all a happy family atmosphere.

By Kathy Harris – Naturopath, Nutritionist, Western Herbal Medicine, Homoeopathy, Functional Testing. Wholistic Medical Centre, Surry Hills