10 Ways To Take The Stress Out Of Family Mealtimes

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If the phrases “what are we having for dinner?” and “not that again!” have become familiar in your household, chances are that

a) you have children and

b) family mealtimes may have become a bit of a chore

Trying to set a good example for your kids during mealtimes is an age-old struggle.  I’m confident that cavemen argued with their children about eating “three more mouthfuls” and I’m also pretty confident they argued about the size of said mouthfuls (“that’s half a mouthful, you’ve got two and half more mouthfuls to go.”)

Never mind the stress and pressures of planning and cooking a wholesome meal but convincing your kids to sit down and enjoy it with the rest of the family? Not an easy task. And according to the results of our Healthy Eating Index, 85% of people surveyed said they wanted to eat healthier with barriers like lack of time and inspiration getting in the way.

Luckily for us, our good friend, Charlotte Stirling-Reed (who is both a mother and a registered nutritionist) has come to the rescue with some insightful tips to cut down on the dinnertime stress and help make family mealtimes healthier…

Make mealtimes an ‘occasion’ for your family

Trying to get everyone around the table might seem tough, but if you can make it part of your family routine to sit and have one meal together (even if that’s only at the weekend) then you bring about the idea that mealtimes are important, food is enjoyable and all central in the role of family life. This can really help to encourage positive relationships with food.

Make mealtimes fun

Mealtimes shouldn’t be a battleground – why not try making them different every now and then by eating outside (maybe not in winter) or having indoor picnics or “midnight” feasts together. You could also try introducing a game at the start of a meal or even asking the kids for two words that describe their day. Why not do some taste tests once a week with a new food or blindfold the kids before they take their first bite. Mealtimes are so often forgotten, or even dreaded by kids, but making them a fun time to be with the family means that children are more likely to look forward to eating and spending time with you.

Vary your meals

So often we get bored with our typical dinners. Sometimes thinking outside the box and trying something new can be just the way to reignite your passion for healthy cooking. I love using new ingredients such as spices, veggies or condiments that I haven’t tried before. Every now and then you’ll pick something up that’ll become a staple in your household for the future. What a way to encourage variety in the diet too.

Think colour!

Considering the colour of your plates at mealtimes means that your dish is not only going to appeal more to your kids, but it’s likely to encourage you to eat more fruits and veggies too. I always encourage people try to add different colours to their plates – greens, reds, purples, orange – which can help to make a meal more varied and more exciting whilst helping you to reach your 5 a day too! Don’t forget that frozen and tinned vegetables all count too. So adding a few handfuls of spinach, some tinned kidney beans or some frozen peas all count too.

Build positive little foodies

There is so much negative information in the media about food on a daily basis that sometimes it’s hard not to fear it! However, bringing up children to understand how wonderful food is and how lucky we are to have the variety of food we have in our lives is a great way to help them have a positive relationship with food, and their bodies. We can show children how to look after themselves by thinking about moderation and health (not aesthetics) when it comes to food and also by showing them what “balance” means.

Try to avoid negative talk around food and discussing dieting, food guilt or using foods as a reward for eating up others as these are not likely to be helpful in creating a positive relationship with foods. Encourage balance and enjoyment of all food often starts with family mealtimes and role modelling at home.

Try offering “help yourself” meals

Having a few large serving platters on the table can make mealtimes less daunting for small tummies and can help to develop autonomy around foods and food choices too. This is also a good way to encourage kids (and adults!!) to pay a little more attention to their hunger and fullness signals and get them to think about whether they need more or have eaten too much! It’s also a lovely way to eat together as a family, serving each other from one main bowl in the middle.

Add a side salad or veggies

The evening meal is always a great time to get in extras. Most of the time we aren’t eating enough in the way of fruit and veggies and so evening meals are a fab way to top up your 5 a day. I tend to recommend having a salad or a small pile of veggies as a side option at mealtimes to add variety and extra veggies into everyone’s daily diet.

Avoid ‘hiding’ veggies and foods at mealtimes

Sneaking food into your children’s diets is a good way to get them to top-up on nutrients at mealtimes. However, research shows that it’s familiarity with individual foods that helps lead to its acceptance, especially in younger children. So even if you are blending veggies into sauces and making pizza dough out of cauliflower, try to also expose kids to the real deal to ensure they see it regularly which may lead to them being more accepting of these foods in time.

Cook together!

They are never too young to start getting involved with food prep – whether that’s pretend foods and toy chopping boards, or actually getting them involved in the kitchen. Children are often more likely to enjoy foods if they have had a hand in prepping them, so try to get them involved from laying the table to chopping veggies to stirring meals or serving it to the family.

Make the most of mealtimes!

This is from a nutritional perspective e.g. getting extra veggies, proteins, spinach etc into the meals but also from a social perspective. Instead of thinking about mealtimes as a chore, try to use it as a time to enjoy spending time together, talking about food, life, health as well as what you do day to day. Making mealtimes enjoyable is such a wonderful way to get the kids enjoying food.

What are your tips for stress-free family mealtimes? We’d love to hear them in the comments below.  And if you’re looking for more tips on how to get kids feeling happy and confident in the kitchen read our top tips on Cooking With Kids. You can also find more great tips and advice from Charlotte on her website and blog.