Meals together with your family can be magical. They can be full of conversation and fun; they are important times to reconnect with each other after a day apart. However this kind of mealtime can feel very hard to achieve. Too often worries about what the kids are eating make parents nag kids. Everyone may be tired and cranky leading to bickering rather than sharing. Let’s see if we can help your meals become the valuable experience they should be.
First and likely hardest, hold back the worry about what your child eats! As a parent your job is to offer healthy food choices, their job is to chose which foods and how much to eat. Think of their nutrition as averaged over a month; if the choices are healthy then eventually their diet will become well rounded. It is more important to make your dinners relaxed and enjoyable. If you are worried about their weight contact your doctor to ask if there is a reason to worry. If the doctor feels that your child’s weight is healthy it may help you to let go of your dinner-time concern.
Busy family schedules can get in the way of eating together as a family but try to make this togetherness a priority. Schedule activities around dinner when possible. If not possible, then consider eating at creative times – early before soccer practice or late afterwards (with a big afternoon snack).
Teach your children that dinners are meant for sharing the day’s experiences. Ask them about their days and let them know that you expect to be asked as well. Sometimes this can be hard to start; try the “two true, one false game”. Everyone takes turns telling in detail two true experiences from the day and one false. Then, everyone else gets to guess which one is false. Without even noticing, they will have told you lots about their day.
Playing other games can be fun too. Kids love playing “would you rather this or that?” Ask them for example, would you rather be rich but lonely or poor and surrounded by love? You will learn about who your child is becoming and sneak in a discussion about values and morals. Play “goober goat” – a zany word association game in which one person says the name of anything found on a farm. The next person says the first word that comes to mind; they can’t be criticized but can be asked to explain the connection. These connections and explanations give you quite a fun view of your child’s mind and personality.
Tell them your stories, talk about your life. Answer their questions. Problem solve together. All of this is most successful if you are animated and excited to be talking with them. The stories, games and values that you share at dinner will last them a lifetime and give them a lifetime of warm memories. Bon appetit!