Women’s magazines, television advertisements, or Instagram.
There has always been a source of that picture perfect family image, sitting around a table, laughing, sharing wholesome food at a gorgeously set table. Everyone is eating, drinking, smiling.
No-one is crying, refusing their dinner, and there is not more food down on the floor than there is up on the table.
It can be difficult to swing the dinner pendulum from one end of the spectrum to the other (unrealistic) one. But there are some simple tips you can apply to dinner prep and meal time to make things run a little smoother, so that everyone eats, drinks and smiles… for at least some of the meal 😉
So what can I do?!
Prepare as much of the meal ahead of time as possible. It will decrease your workload around meal time, and help set a more relaxed tone in the eating environment. If possible chop, par-cook, or fully cook parts of the meal that can be prepared ahead, without tired, hungry little people clutching at your legs. If you are at home, this might be at lunchtime while little ones nap, or the night before or early morning if you are heading out to work.
While you finish cooking or assembling the meal, ask children to help out, with different tasks depending on their ages. Washing hands themselves, setting plates, cups and cutlery are small things, but if they can do these independently they are occupied, and have contributed to making things work, while you’re free to put the finishing touches on a meal.
Offer meals platter or buffet style, serving components separately where you can to allow kids to choose which parts of the meal they would like. For example, serving a new slow cooker curry on top of rice directly on a child’s plate may mean they refuse the entire meal. But having the curry, rice, naan and a child friendly selection of vegetables separately at the table may mean your child tries more. Even if they don’t choose a food first time around, having it remain available to them, and seeing others eat and enjoy it, increases their exposure to the food.
Allow family members to season a meal to their tastes. Many people leave out large amounts of hot spices from family meals, like pepper and chilli, but allow them to be added at the table. But try offering other seasonings too – like lemon wedges, parmesan, dukkah, fresh herbs, pesto, tomato relish, smoked paprika… the list goes on! You may be surprised what your children enjoy. ( It may not be the best example, but throw back to the days of adding tomato sauce to a meal that wasn’t quite your favourite as a child… get my drift?!)
Consider having one or two “non-threatening” foods available when trying a new meal with tastes or textures that may be challenging for some members of the family. If serving a new meal, offer an item like bread, grated cheese, or salad vegetables that your child can eat comfortably, and still participate in the family meal time.
Finally, and most importantly, don’t feel the entire success of a meal, and whether or not your child eats it, is your responsibility alone. ‘The parent provides, but the child decides’ is the central message from Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding. Once you’ve done your job as parent, providing a wholesome meal in a relaxed environment, the rest is up to your child. Try to sit back and enjoy meal time for what it is – a family sharing together. Following this mantra can result in children progressively eating more of the family meal, enjoying a larger variety of foods, and a greater feeling of contentment at the family dinner table for everyone involved.
Angela @ Bloom 🌿