“For children, time spent at mealtime has more social, emotional, and nutritional value than any other activity. That’s because your child benefits from time with you where he can have your undivided attention. Your making that regular time together a priority tells him louder than words can speak that he is important to you.”Ellyn Satter, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family
I love that quote from Ellyn Satter and those words keep me sane when everyone around me is constantly on the go and I feel the pressure to put my daughter in a lot of activities outside of the home. If I do put her in something, I make sure there’s still plenty of time to get home and have dinner together as a family. Honestly, she’s only done one gymnastics class so far and since her sister was born, it’s a lot of extra stress on my part to coordinate logistics so we are taking a break from even one extra activity right now. This is not meant as a judgement if you do want your children involved in other activities outside of the home, but what I love about what Ellyn says is that time spent with you, their parents, is more important to them than those other activities. I feel like this relieves the pressure from feeling like we have to involve our kids in a lot of different activities. They have plenty of time to try different things and find out what interests them.
Family meals don’t need to be an elaborate meal made from scratch each night. The important part of the meal is that everyone is together. You can start where you are then branch out and always add in new foods to your current menu. The goal is to have the meal be a positive experience which means checking your attitude before you come to the table and avoid fighting or any other negative topics. There also shouldn’t be any pressure on anyone at the table to taste anything or clean their plate. You can even eat your meals on the floor or together at a restaurant, but remember to remove all distractions from your phone, TV, books or any other devices that you may have.
“It’s not a meal if the TV is on, if you have fights at the table, or if you feed your child rather than eating with him.”Ellyn Satter, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family
I’ve noticed that my daughter doesn’t like all of the attention to be on her at the dinner table. She was the only child for almost 5 years and dinner time was the time we were all together so I was always asking her questions and I noticed that she would leave the table quickly. I went to a parenting class and I mentioned that behavior to the instructor and she suggesting not putting all of the attention on her and to enjoy the meal and talk to my husband. Ellyn Satter also mentions that when kids are full they will get up and leave the table. I’ve learned to let her get up from the table when she’s done and not to nag her to keep coming back and that has made meal time less stressful for everyone at the table. As she gets older I’ve noticed that she stays longer and longer at the table without me needing to ask her to stay. She also sees her parents enjoying their meal and having good conversation and she wants to come back and be involved.
Be realistic with your current situation and aim for one meal a day with everyone together. It doesn’t always have to be dinner, it can be breakfast or lunch. If that’s too much right now, then just try for a few times a week to start and you can always add on from there.