The importance of family meal times

Sitting down as a family to eat a meal is unfortunately not as common as it was in the past but it’s one of the best tips for avoiding or overcoming fussy eating. Realistically most families will not be able to sit down together at the same time to eat their meals because of work etc. But even if you could make the effort to sit down together at the weekends it will be of huge benefit to your toddler’s eating habits and social development.

Eating together as a family has been shown to have multiple benefits for all involved and not only from a nutritional perspective but in many other aspects as well.

By sitting down as a family (and turning off any TVs, laptops, tablets, phones etc!), you have the perfect opportunity to interact and bond with each other. Research has shown that family mealtimes can also boost children’s vocabulary even more than being read out loud to.

From a nutritional point of view, research shows that children who experience family meal times regularly consume more vegetables and fruits and fewer soft drinks. Studies also show that children are less likely to be overweight and obese later on in their teenage and adult years if they regularly sit down for family meals in the toddler stage.

We know that toddlers will copy their parents and siblings when it comes to the foods to eat so by sitting down as a family it will be easier to get them to eat the foods you want them to. Remember to lead by good example though!

You may also notice that your toddler will take preference to using their hands to eat over using their cutlery…..but this is absolutely fine!! Yes it will get messy but mess is good! Allow your toddler to explore the feel of different foods with their hands. If your toddler is going through a fussy eating phase it can sometimes help to leave bowls of food in the centre of the table and allow them to pick what they want.  Check out our recipe for Toddler Tapas!

It’s important that you just cook one meal for the whole family. If there’s salt, sugar, stock, gravy, soya sauce or any other sugary/salty condiments in the meal just make sure to remove your toddler’s portion first before you add these. Try not to offer alternatives to your toddler if they don’t eat the meal you’ve prepared as they will get into a habit of this and will never eat what you want them to. I know it’s hard to not give them an alternative out of fear they will starve but don’t worry, they won’t! And they will learn their lesson for the following day.

Keep the dinner table a happy, relaxed environment – which can be difficult if your toddler refuses to eat the lovely meal you’ve just prepared! Try not to make a fuss or a big deal if they don’t eat their meal and just quietly take the plate away after about 30 minutes (run out into another room and scream if necessary!). If your toddler sees you getting angry and shouting they might associate meal times with this less happy feeling and it may be even more difficult to get them to sit down and eat their meal in the following days. Some toddlers on the other hand may actually like this attention that they are getting for not eating their meal and they will therefore continue to refuse their meals in the future. It’s not easy is it?!

Definitely make the effort to sit together as much as possible at the dinner table and the long-term benefits and memories will be worth it!

Try some of these tasty recipes suitable for all the family

 

Beef casserole

Beef and Lentil Shepherds Pie

Parmesan and Lemon chicken with sweet potato mash

Tasty beef and veg stew

Lemon chicken and broccoli bake

Speedy chicken pesto pasta

Crispy herb lemon sole

Cowboy hotpot

Salmon fish fingers with wedges

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Michelle, Dietitian

I qualified as a Dietitian in 2008 and am a member of the Irish Nutrition & Dietetic Institute. Shortly after graduating I joined Danone Early Life Nutrition as an Infant Nutrition Specialist. I have a particular interest in the importance of good nutrition during the very early stages of life as it lays a solid foundation for good health across a life time. I think it is extremely important that this message is communicated to pregnant woman and the parents of babies and toddlers so they can ensure that their family achieves optimal nutrition for a healthy life.

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