Family mealtimes are the first thing to go when everyday life becomes a rush. Nursery, work, clubs: squeezing in a sit-down dinner can seem impossible when our schedules become packed. But, with so many benefits for children of all ages, it’s worth making time for regular family meals. From healthy eating habits to increased self-esteem (and lots of good food!), there are so many reasons to enjoy dinner together.
We all want to nurture top table manners and social skills in our children, and mealtimes are essential for setting up good habits that will last a lifetime. Lead by example to encourage healthy habits such as saying thank you and chewing food properly; trust us, polite parents are the way to good-as-gold kids! Sitting around the dinner table has also been found to promote important life skills such as taking turns and patience – qualities we all want to see in our little angels!
Food is (obviously!) an important part in any mealtime and family dinners are the perfect time to sit down to something tasty. Research has shown that meals eaten together are usually more nutritious than out-of-the-packed dinners pinged from the microwave. By sharing the same healthy, home-cooked food, your little ones will be much more likely to eat a balanced meal and maintain the right BMI for their age. Family meals work wonders for tweens and teens too by boosting their self-esteem, helping them to maintain a healthy body weight and reducing the risk of drug abuse. And all from some home-cooked grub!
Family meals also encourage children to take a genuine interest in their food. We know that those messy dinners and tomato sauce-covered faces may make you wish your toddler took less interest in their tea, but passing some of the responsibility over to the kids will make them much more excited about healthy new foods. Encourage children to get involved in all aspects of their meal, from planning right through to cooking (and washing up, of course!).
Tots will love spotting new fruit and veg on the supermarket shelves while older children can help out in the kitchen by boiling, baking and tasting as they cook. Don’t be cross if they turn their nose up at new flavours but do give them the chance to explore different tastes and textures. Not too keen on lumps? Blitz their pasta sauce in a blender or try some different berries in a fruity smoothie.
The benefits of family mealtimes are endless – and go far beyond the food. Another big plus point is the sense of togetherness a family dinner will create. Modern life can feel isolating and disconnected amid the hectic myriad of school, work and play. Take some time out from the chaos and come back together over a warming plate of something good. Make mealtimes a family affair: cook together, lay the table as a team and sit, talk and be present as you eat. Asking questions about one other’s days or chatting about the latest news headlines will encourage children to take an interest in the world around them. Avoid distractions by saying no to a ‘digital dinner table’ – putting screens away will help you to engage with one other and give teens some much-needed screen free time!
Talking together at meals will also help to build your child’s self-esteem. Asking questions about their school day and listening to their views (even if that means hearing an hour-long grumble!) will help to build their confidence and self-belief. Teatime is also a perfect opportunity to develop your child’s conversation skills. By building their vocabulary and teaching them to listen to others, you will help them to be more confident in social interactions. From making new friends to acing future job interviews, sitting down to dinner is sure to set them up for success!
More than anything, though, we want our little ones to feel safe, secure and protected. Eating together each day will help to give them a reassuring sense of routine. Dinnertime will fast become something to look forward to – a safe space they can rely on for familiarity and good food. We know that it might not be practical to eat at the same time each day, but even a few regular mealtimes a week will do wonders for a child’s sense of security and self-esteem. And don’t think that it has to be dinner – many families find that eating breakfast together sets them up for a bright and smiley day.
Mealtimes with little ones don’t have to be hair-frazzling fraught. We know that potato splattered walls and spaghetti hoops in their (and our!) hair can be stressful, but dinner is also a chance for all the family to relax, recharge and reconnect. Mealtimes matter at any age, from little tots to tweens and teens. Happy kids without hungry tums – sounds good to us!