We often talk about the importance of socializing children into family meal-times. But what does that really mean and how can we apply it to create a successful family-friendly experience?
As the term implies, family meals refers to the family unit sitting together and sharing the same meal. According to infant feeding specialist Ellyn Satter, a registered dietician and family therapist, "Meals put the sustainability and sociability into eating. To feel secure and to eat and grow well, children depend on your providing meals and snacks at predictable times.”
Ms Satter also says that children who have family meals do better in many ways.
"Teens who have regular meals with a parent are better adjusted emotionally and socially, have better grades and go further in school.
Important as family meals are for child nutrition, benefits to children go far beyond. Time spent with families at meals is more related to the psychological and academic success of adolescents than time spent in school, studying, church, playing sports, or doing art activities. Teens who had regular meals with a parent were better adjusted emotionally and socially, had better grades and went further in school. They had lower rates of alcohol use, drug use, early sexual behavior and suicide risk."
We agree! We also believe that socializing children into the family meal experience should begin as soon as your child transitions to solids.
Here are tips from the Ellyn Satter Institute on how to create a successful family-friendly meal;
How to get started
- Round up the family to eat together.
- Let your child decide what and how much to eat from what is on the table.
- Make mealtimes pleasant. Talk and enjoy each other. Don’t scold or fight.
- Let eaters pick and choose from what you put on the table. They may eat only one or two foods.
- Don’t try to please every eater with every food. Settle for providing each eater with one or two foods they generally enjoy.
- Don’t offer substitutes or short-order cook.
- When you introduce new foods, also offer something familiar that everyone likes and can fill up on.
- Don’t give choices on the main dish. Always putting peanut butter or cereal on the table tells your child, ”I don’t expect you to learn to like new food.”
Some family-friendly meal-planning tactics
- Include all the food groups: Meat or other protein; a couple of starchy foods, fruit or vegetable or both; butter, salad dressing or gravy; and milk.
- Always offer plenty of ”bread” or some other starch that family members like and can fill up on. That could be sliced bread, tortillas, pita, Indian flat bread, Asian pancakes or wraps, cornbread, biscuits, crackers, rice, potatoes, or pasta.
- Remember, when you introduce new foods, also offer something familiar that everyone likes and can fill up on.
- Include high- and low-fat food in meals and snacks. This satisfies both big and small appetites.
- Regularly offer forbidden food.
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