Why Eating Together Enhances Family Wellbeing
The knock on effect of eating together as a family, isn't just that kids usually eat more healthily, studies have found there's a whole host of other benefits including reduced stress, good mental health, improved grades, saving money, better family relationships and greater happiness.
Most parents I work with want to know how to create more calm and gentleness in their homes to promote family wellbeing. Below our ideas on 'How I'' promote this in my family , rather than a 'How To Do It', .only you know what works best for your family. Enjoy our family 'Shamba' image below too!
But I don't Have Time!
Do you enjoy mealtimes together as a family, do you have time to sit together, are you happy with the food choices you make and feel you have good variety and balance, is eating with your kids a nice experience or a chore? My Buddhist Meditation Teacher, said to me when I was training with him: 'no time means no intention'. Perhaps you aren't hungry or wish to eat later? In the long term just sitting and having a small plate and joining in with your child will create longer term healthy eating habits and wellbeing.
Since my kids were old enough to eat we've sat together at mealtimes. From about 6 months, minus the salt, they've pretty much eaten the same softened food as an adult, they made a complete mess, and still often do. Yet it's fun fun and sociable.
What About The Fussy Eaters?
Most children go through stages of 'fussing' over food and it's during these times that we may unintentionally reinforce it, so they end up with longer term picky eating habits. Eating together is more likely to encourage children to explore food more and try things out, especially when they see us modelling how to. Also avoid using this label 'fussy eating' as often it's unintentionally reinforced!
I've been teaching for 20 years and during lunch-breaks have seen many school kids pushing their food around their plate. They find it hard to control their cutlery and can't wait to get away from the table and nor can the lunchtime staff, who pace around with their cloths, waiting for the next year groups to take their places on the benches.
In some schools, staff do eat with the children, placing a high priority on the importance of eating together, modelling how to, communicating deeply and really engaging with one other.
Encouraging Eating Autonomy
What if we looked for more opportunities to give autonomy to our children? By allowing our child more choice we give them some space to be and to take ownership of their eating. By including them in our family decisions we can significantly relax our control and boundaries, and we may discover our children become more relaxed across other areas of their lives, so these skills are transferable.
Make Table Connection and Conversation & Priority
They've never been rewarded with pudding if they eat all their food, I also have a strong aversion to sticker rewards and making my children 'compliant' - if they don't eat there's no fuss about it and if they do it's the same, no attachment to any outcome. We enjoy being at the table with them, food isn't the priority, table conversation and connection is.
Usually food is served from bowls at the table, so they can just help themselves to what they fancy and measure their own portions too. There might also be bread & butter, cheese, crackers and salad on offer.
On Sundays, we sit together and go through calendars and planners in an attempt to get organised. Again a lovely time to connect and communicate as a family. We often write down meals we would all like for the week, and which meals they can help prepare/cook.
Encouraging the children to join in with cooking as often as possible, such as squeezing oranges, grating cheese, making fruit crumbles and teaching them how to handle knives to chop makes them less food adverse and this can be encouraged from a young age. Always looking for opportunities for them to get involved or do it on their own.
From about 3 years of age they've created their own shopping lists. In the early days this really made learning to read and write meaningful, their pictures and words didn't need to make sense it was just part of the process and often we would model how to create the lists. They'd run along the aisles on their own to find things, then be engaged with packing, paying and then unpacking back home. They are still involved at 13 and 11, nowadays they can go to the shops alone and pick up milk, bread etc if we run short and write things we need on the fridge door with a white board pen.
Where Does Food Come From?
Many kids don't know where food comes from. For the past 12 years, we've been privileged to grow vegetables at our allotment, so the kids have been able to sow, grow and eat from scratch.
If you don't have access to a garden or the opportunity to plant a few seeds, maybe see if you can visit a friend who does, or visit an allotment, garden centre or working farm. Most schools do have gardening projects, however I would say it can be rather tokenistic and dependent on the energy and enthusiasm of the staff member in charge.
Encourage children to look also at food labels and consider the ingredients, and even world maps to plot which country food has come from, they might enjoy this clip here.
Look forward to hearing from you to learn more about what inspires your family eating habits, and ways you promote family wellbeing.