When I grew up, like many of you, we ate at the table together. I know how cliche it sounds but for some reason, life seemed easier back then. When I grew up we also only had 9 TV channels, no internet, and there was no ‘delivery service’ on speed dial…actually, did we even have speed-dial??
Times have changed, but family dinner should not be one of the sacrifices of our busy, modern lives. There are many studies that show that time spent together at the table has so many benefits not only for our kids, but also for us. Just think about it: When we sit down, we relax. And when we relax, we talk with each other, we take the time to listen, and we laugh. We simply enjoy the time together… and we make memories!
So, let’s turn off the tablets and turn on the tables! Ok, I realize how ‘old-fashioned mommyish’ this must sound (note to self: forget about the punchline next time) - but family meal time really does bring a lot of benefits, especially during weaning:1. Babies learn by watching and copying – Little ones watch everything we do, and from a very early age on they can already start to imitate us. It’s simple, they want to do what we do because they know this will be rewarded with a smile, hug or ‘good job!’.
This is also true with food and meal time. If they see us eat at the table, they will want that too. If they see us enjoying the taste of spinach, they will love it (or learn to love it). If they see you put fresh herbs on your plate, they will also want fresh herbs on their food.
Kids will learn to love new foods by seeing you eat and enjoy them. Therefore, forget about any shortcuts and try to set a good example when you eat together.
2. Babies celebrate when they do new things – Growing up is all about exploring the world around you. A big part of that is food: what to eat and how to eat it. If you eat something else every night from Thai to Indian and from pasta to salad, the little versions of you might start protesting when they get the same porridge every night. Given that they love to mimic us and like to try new things, why not use the baby-friendly parts of your meal for a little taste and texture exploration?
3. We can focus on them and teach them how to eat – When they are discovering new foods, it is important (and lots of fun) to teach them how to eat the foods. Practice together how to eat slowly, how to fully chew the food, how to make sure they swallow before they take their next spoonful. And don’t forget the spoon, fork and even ‘cheers’ with their sippy cup (an absolute must for Olivia before starting to eat)😊
4. To develop their food knowledge and vocabulary – Kids love to learn and are super curious, so make meal time question time! So when eating together, make sure to talk about the food. Ask them questions about the food and how it is prepared. For example, ‘how do you like the broccoli tonight?’, ‘tonight, you are eating steamed broccoli with quinoa and avocado. Which one is the avocado?’.
There was even a study done by Harvard University which showed that when families eat together, this time enables the littles ones to grow their vocabulary and improve their language skills.
5. Babies will eat the same food as us – Most of us will be familiar with the ‘picky-eater’ stage. Suddenly, our brave taste explorer becomes a grumpy refuser, very determined about what to eat and especially about what not to eat. One of the best ways to bypass this stage is to prepare the same food for the entire family.
This is where all of the aboves comes in. When possible, try to prepare meals that make everyone happy. This will make it easy for your little one to copy you, regularly try new things, learn different ways of eating food and develop their knowledge.
Of course, this does require some adaptation, but it might not be as difficult as it seems. Babies can pretty much eat everything, you just have to consider how you prepare it. For example, flavour foods with mild herbs and spices and leave out the added salt and/or sugar. This will probably make it healthier for us adults too. If the grown-ups do want something non baby-friendly, just put it on the table for it to be added there.
The sooner you start with sharing food and meals, the sooner your little one will eat like you!
Now, with all those benefits, we should just drop everything and fully focus on meal time, right?! Well, if your house is anything like ours, it’s not easy to make this happen with everything that is going on. But, I have learned a few tricks that help get family meal time in.
First, meal time does not necessarily mean dinner time – any meal together works! Choose the times during the week that are best for you and your family. And second, dinner does not need to be a 5 course meal – we are all super busy, it is ok to use frozen veggies, or open a jar of soup or pasta sauce. We all need a little support…just make sure to read the label first.