Anne is the Coordinator of the MA Children at Play Program at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
When you have kids, pulling together a family meal can get stressful. Yet starting good eating habits while kids are still young can lead to a lifetime of healthy eating. That’s why its important to set the stage early for kids to enjoy mealtimes and have a good relationship with food. As a parent, you have the ability to make meals less stressful for you and more fun for the whole family!
Allow enough time: There’s nothing fun about a rushed meal. Set aside at least 20 minutes for the family meal. That will give you and your family plenty of time to relax, try different foods, and talk about things that matter to you.
Let the kids help: Asking your kids to get involved not only will help you, but it helps them become more interested in their food and the meal. Let kids make some choice about foods to be served, or allow them to help you shop for food and help with some simple preparation. Having kids help set the table is another easy way to get them involved. Take it a step further by helping them make a placemat with their own decorations and art work!
Turn off the TV and computer: Watching TV during a meal makes it harder to talk as a family. Turning it off allows you to have pleasant discussions about the days events. Distractions like TV, phones or computer games also make it harder to pay attention to what and how much you’re eating. If you like to have some background noise, turn on quiet music during the meal.
Sit Down: Something I know all too well is that Mom is almost always the last one to get her food and sit down. Time things as best as you can so that you sit at the table with everyone else – it makes for a better experience for everyone.
Be a Role Model: Most important to remember is that you’re teaching your children habits that will most likely stay with them for the rest of their lives. Be a role model by eating some healthy food choices at the meal, putting your phone away, and being fully present at the meal.
So sit down, relax, and enjoy family meal time. You'll not only be spending quality time with your family, you'll also be shaping their long-lasting relationship with food.