There is all sorts of advice out there on feeding kids! What to feed, what not to feed your kids, how to get them to eat vegetables, school lunch ideas…… One area of advice that I don’t see often enough are the “how’s” when it comes to feeding our kids.

We know that kids from families who eat together several nights per week are less apt to be overweight, actually do better in school and have a lower incidence of risky behaviors as they become adolescents (smoking, drinking, drugs, sex). In the best of all worlds we sit down with our kids, have great conversation, and enjoy good food…..In reality, we are often exhausted after a day of work, kids are tired and whining; they might be saying “yuck!” to the wonderful meal you have prepared. Dragging everyone away from their phones, TV, computer, playing to come to the table may seem to be more effort than it’s worth.
Does having  nice family meals seem like a pipe dream? Here are a few tips on how to make them a little easier:

  • A little planning can go a long way—try to figure out what you are going to have for dinner before you start your day, whether it is frozen pizza and green salad, leftovers, take out or something you are going to prepare from scratch when you get home. Just a little planning can take a lot of stress out of dinner time. If you are less stressed about dinner, everyone will be more relaxed.
  • Give each family member some job related to getting dinner on the table or cleaning up after the meal… setting the table, helping with prep or with clean-up. Even very young children can do something. Kids need to realize that food does not just magically appear on the table, and parents benefit from some help.
  • Sit down to eat together, and start eating together! Try to avoid the habit of filling kids’ plates and letting them start to eat before you sit down—it is not a family meal unless you are all eating together. Start the meal with a ritual—it may be a prayer of thanksgiving for the meal, or just expressing that you are thankful for farmers, or thankful for something in your day. This helps keeps all of us from just taking food for granted, AND it starts your meal off on a positive note.
  • Make meals as enjoyable as possible! Talk about what went on during the day, current events, the upcoming weekend or holiday, or check out table conversation cards you can buy at most bookstores. Try to avoid telling your kids to eat one more bite of this or that, or threatening that “if you don’t eat dinner, you won’t get dessert.”
  • Manners matter. Do have basic rules you expect your kids to abide by….chew with your mouth closed, say please if you want more of something, and thank you when you’ve received it, don’t feed the dog from the table……when kids are seriously misbehaving during a meal, try the “three strikes and you’re out” rule. If you have to tell your child to stop a certain behavior more than twice, they need to leave the table…end of meal; go play somewhere else, but TV or computer is not an option. ‘Good chance that child is no longer hungry and won’t benefit from continuing to sit at the table.

Not all family meals are going to be perfect, but the more often you have them, the more relaxed they will become. If your children are used to eating with the family and using good manners, you can feel comfortable taking them to other people’s homes and to restaurants. Those good manners will extend into adulthood.