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Should Mealtimes Be All About Food?


The university of Illinois this week published a study claiming that children who eat meals whilst their parents are distracted by other things have a higher chance of eating less healthy food and there are links to childhood obesity. The study goes on to highlight the benefits of family dining on everyone in the family - both the adults and the children. A common complaint we hear from parents is regarding children who are struggling to stay at the table during a meal and so here are some ideas for making dinner time less distracting and more cohesive for all concerned:

1) HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS : If everyone in your home is on different schedules, you are unlikely to be able to have a family dinner every night. Therefore try to set aside one night a week where everyone can be there at the same time and can be involved in the meal. You need to make this time together a priority - the meal itself is secondary!

2) EVERYONE NEEDS TO FEEL INVOLVED: Each member of the family should have an opportunity to contribute to the set up and clearing of the meal. The specific roles alloted to each family member will depend on the ages of the children but can be as simple as - " take your plate to the table " or as sophisticated as "please chop some vegetables. " Once at the table, everyone should have their regular seat. If someone isn't there for the dinner, their seat is left empty.

3) ONCE AT THE TABLE THE FOCUS SHOULDN'T BE THE FOOD : The idea of mealtimes as a family is to allow a chance for bonding and building of relationships. This means using the time you have be it 20 minutes or 1 hour ( often depending on schedule pressures or your children's concentration span) to talk about things happening in each of your lives. Ask your children about their days with questions that can't be answered with a yes or a no eg: "who did you play with today at break time? " or " What was your favourite lesson?" Don't be afraid to also share facets of your day with your children in an age appropriate way and maybe even relate it to them eg " Guess who I saw today - Grandma" When chatting with your children, try not to worry too much about what they are actually eating and for fussy eaters, you may find that taking the focus away from the food actually distracts them enough to eat a bit more.

4) NO SCREEN TIME : Whether you are eating as a whole family or not, it is a good idea to make the dinner table a screen free zone. For older kids it is a break from homework ( often done on screen) and for younger ones they will not focus fully on what they are eating if they are trying to watch something - it involves multi - tasking! Even if your kids eat separately from each other or you due to schedule conflicts, if you are able to, it is a good idea to be around during dinner time and give your child an opportunity to fill you in on their day and catch up about what is happening tomorrow.

Whilst these tips only scratch the surface of the issue some of the benefits of eating as a family according to latest research includes: lower rates of eating disorders in teenagers; better self esteem for children; an ability to introduce children to more flavors and foods and a noticeable improvement in manners!