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Family Meals

Updated: Jan 18

Eating together as a family is one of the most important things you can do to help your fussy eater. I know, life is busy, it's hard to find the time to sit down and eat together. Is it really that important?


Why do family meals?


The social aspect of eating:

Eating has always been something we do together as a tribe or community. It's a time to share stories and connect. Food has always brought people together. Yet today, we feed our children in a silo - quickly and efficiently, before having our own relaxing meal. Family meals recreates what meals are all about: connection! Personally, I wouldn't want to miss out on that, would you?


Learning about what foods are safe:

Let's think about cavemen days when we foraged for our food. Children couldn't just eat anything; one berry may be delicious and healthy and the other? Well, it may end with a vomiting bug and achy tummy or even death. Children developed a smart way of avoiding the latter - they watched what the adults ate and copied them! Smart, huh? Now days we know that the food we are eating is safe, but children still use their natural instincts to protect themselves. Children are much more likely to eat something when you're eating it, because they know it's safe!


Exposure:

Did you know, children need to be exposed to a food 10-15 times before they try it? Exposure doesn't just mean eating it, it means having it on the table, watching you eat it or even just playing with it. Family mealtimes creates natural exposure to the foods that you eat regularly, meaning your child will be more likely to try these foods.


How to do family meals?


Regular routines help children feel confident to know what is coming. This can help your child predict what will happen and feel more relaxed around mealtimes. This is particularly important for fussy eaters. Here are some steps that you can use to guide you through family meals:


  1. Give your child a warning. This can help your child prepare for the mealtime. You can also ask your child to set the table in preparation.

  2. Wash your hands together as a family. You can use fun sponges to make this more exciting for your child. This provides sensory and mental preparation for the meal.

  3. Place all the food on the table with some serving spoons. This allows your child to see and smell new and different foods. Make sure there is something everyone will eat on the table.

  4. Everyone serves themselves food. If your child does not want a food on their plate, encourage them to put it on their learning plate. This is a side plate or extra plate that your child can have near them. It allows your child to learn about new foods without having them on their own plate. Your child can have it directly next to their plate or push it away to a comfortable distance.

  5. Eat and chat: add in the social element of mealtimes and connection. Talk to your child about their day or an upcoming adventure.

  6. Once everyone is finished eating, it's tidy up time. Get your child involved in clearing away the plates and cleaning the table. Get your child to put any leftover foods into tupperwares or the bin.


Tips for family meals


  • If you don't eat all together right now, I recommend starting with one family mealtime per week (weekend meals are usually the easiest). If you can, move towards sharing one meal a day together.

  • When family mealtimes are new, keep them short and sweet.

  • Make sure there is a food your child will eat on the table. I love using Veggies and Virtues Love It, Like it, Learning it method for all meals and snacks.

  • Create a calm and relaxing environment. Stress reduces appetite so should be avoided where possible. Try adding some candles (my mom's favourite) or chilled music to family meals.

  • One way to make family meals fun and exciting is to lay your food out as art. Having mashed potatoes, sausages, and peas for dinner? How about using the mash as the body, the sausages as the legs and the peas as the eyes? Shout out to my dad - the founder of this tip.


We have created a list of things that you may need for Family Mealtimes here.


family meals, fussy eating

What are your family meal traditions?

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