By Amelia Phillips
Dinnertime is one of those family rituals that CAN become a cherished part of the day – or it can be stressful AF! Dinnertime is an opportunity to nourish our bods with a home cooked meal, sit down and talk as a fam. But when things go pear shaped, dinnertime can also be a source of frustration, stress and the occasional flying meatball injury (trust me, it’s happened!).
How to make dinnertime that little bit healthier and harmonious
1 // Get the kids involved
Research has shown that involving our kids in food prep can boost their feelings of positivity and control regarding that meal. Whether it be peeling the veggies, setting the table or stirring, try to include them. If that all seems too hard, involving them in meal planning decisions can help too.
2 // Make sure everyone is hungry!
It’s so simple but often hard to do. Try to stop your kids from eating at least an hour (two hours is even better) before dinner. It’s amazing how many fussy tendencies disappear when kids are hungry.
3 // Make one meal for the whole fam-bam to eat
It’s tempting to cook something different for the kids, something we know they will eat. But if we want to foster healthy, varied eating patterns in our kids, we’re better off cooking one healthy family meal and modifying for age if needed (such as pureeing or mashing). Sometimes they will whinge, but ultimately we are encouraging more variety in tastes and textures plus modelling healthy eating behaviours which leads to healthier outcomes later on.
4 // Set a rule: Food stays on plate
If our kids don’t like something on their plate, they will usually pick it up and put (or throw!) it somewhere else. Try the rule that they don’t have to eat it, but it has to stay on the plate. Over time you’ll be surprised when they suddenly start eating it.
5 // Try share-style plates
In France (where fussiness is a much smaller issue) almost all childcare facilities and schools serve a hot, share plate lunch each day. The kids sit down to a platter in the middle where they are served or serve themselves. This is a great model to follow at dinnertime. Not only do shared platters expose a child visually to lots of different foods (even if they don’t eat them), it gives kids some control in their choices and creates an environment where kids can model our own choices (feel grown up). It can be a little messy, but it worth it long term.
6 // Have a good ol’ chat to your kids
Dinnertime is a great opportunity to practise enriching communication (which is a learned trait). To facilitate a fun chat, go around the table expressing the worst part and the best part of your day. One person speaks at a time, we all wait our turn, we all listen and we might learn something about each other.
Amelia is a registered exercise scientist, nutritionist, podcaster and mama to four under 5.5yo. For more tips on creating a healthy, harmonious family life, listen to Healthy Her Podcast by Amelia Phillips