Many of us don't get the time to sit down each day as a family.
Work, life, after-school activities and overtime mean that dinnertime can often be a patchy affair. In our house, we always try to sit down together at the weekend to share a meal together.
And although my children are still too young to sit still for very long or hold a conversation that doesn't consist of listing every Paw Patrol puppy, I'd like to think we are creating the habit of sharing a family moment in a very busy life.
Here are some of the benefits of sitting down together at mealtimes.
1. Social Development
Research has shown that sitting down together as a family can boost your child's vocabulary. It is the chance to let them mimic correct social behaviour. The way they see you eat, chat and bond will help ease them into the more sophisticated world of sociability that you are preparing them for.
2. One on one
In an average day, it is difficult to stop and give your undivided attention to asking your child about their day. Even at bedtime, you have another mission as your priority....sleep. At meal times all together it is the perfect forum to discuss their little lives, who they played with during yard-time and what they are hoping to get from Santa. It gives any other siblings the opportunity to add to discussions or make their own points of view.
3. Expanding their tastebuds
When it comes to introducing new foods, there is nothing like seeing a parent dig in, enthusiastically, to encourage your child to try something unfamiliar. Studies have shown that children are less likely to be overweight and obese in their teen and adult years if they sit down for meals with the family as children. When a child declares that they HATE vegetables, it is a good way to open the conversation about the importance of vitamins or how being brave is commended. Set a good example though, make sure you are digging into those tasty fish-fingers while explaining to them how good fish is for their health.
4. No picky eaters
We set a one-meal rule quite early on and I am so glad we did. If you get into the habit of offering alternatives or cooking a few different versions of the same meal, you will end up with more work and more fussy eaters. I learnt (three children later) that if you serve a vegetable that they claim to dislike over and over again, they will eventually get used to seeing it on their plate as it 'normalises' it. They will one day pick up their fork and start eating it and you will feel like the absolute best mum in the world!
5. Create a zen dinner table
In a family with young children, everyone's life is hectic...even theirs. Sitting down together is a lovely departure from a busy day. Keep it relaxed and happy. Don't fuss over your child when it comes to eating. Just make sure they come to the table hungry. I used to find mealtimes quite stressful as I had to keep encouraging them to eat up, eat up, EAT UP! But now, I've realised that as long as I can monitor what they are eating, they will eventually find their own groove when it comes to eating well at mealtimes. The challenge is keeping healthy balanced meals on the table. In our house, fish fingers, peas and mash is our fail-safe meal and I can be comfortable knowing the children are getting their Omega 3, Vitamin D and protein.
Even if it is hard at the stage your toddler is at, stick with it and create the habit of a family mealtime. It is a tradition that will last, hopefully, your whole lives. Sitting around the table together will take you from laughter to tears, you will share happy news, sad news. You will sit around it together on holidays, during celebrations and eventually, your little family table will expand, more chairs will be pulled up and more lives shared.