Bron Bates considers the dos and don’ts of dinner time with kids.
When I was growing up, there was an unspoken rule in our house that every meal must include something green. Thus, spaghetti with a side of peas.
Now that I’m the parent, I think I’m pretty relaxed about meals. I’m not a patient or enthusiastic cook, but like every family we have food rules, including the unspoken ones.
1. ‘Sometimes foods’ are not ‘treats’.
We try to be careful about the language we use, including the way we speak about food, so we call sugary, salty or heavily processed foodstuffs like cakes and chips ‘sometimes foods’ instead of ‘treats’. I’ve explained to the kids that they’re not ‘treats’ because they don’t really make their bodies feel good. I then explain that what are treats are fruits and veggies because all the goodness in them helps their bodies grow and be healthy. They do not always buy this, but I give it a go because I think using the word ‘treat’ elevates the already inflated status of junk food.
2. You don’t have to eat everything on your plate.
As an adult, sometimes I’m hungry and sometimes I’m not. I’m guessing my kids are the same. I don’t want them to feel guilty about how much or how little they eat, or feel that they have to eat it all even if they’re not hungry. I want them to listen to their bodies rather than just eating because they’re told to.
3. You don’t have to sit at the table until you finish your food.
As a child, I would be left sitting at the table for ages because I hadn’t eaten all my food. To rescue myself, rather than eat the veggies (I love a Brussels sprout now, but then not so much) I’d hide them in a tissue and throw them behind the furniture. Yep. I learnt then that making kids stay at the table so they’ll eat just doesn’t work.
4. Dessert is not a reward for finishing a meal.
This point relates to all three points above. ‘Sometimes foods’ don’t need to be held up as any more special than kids already feel that they are. If we’re having dessert, everyone will be offered some as long as they…
5. Give everything a try.
6. …Unless they really don’t want to.
I’ll definitely encourage my kids to eat, but if they choose not to I’m not going to worry too much. They’re not going to let themselves starve, so as long as there will be healthy food offered again at the next mealtime, they’ll be okay. (N.B. none of my kids have had any particular health issues that make this dangerous in any way).
8. We eat together at the table (usually).
I have my husband to thank for this. When we moved into a home with a dining room, we started the daily ritual of eating dinner together. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry. Sometimes we talk through the best and worst parts of our day together. But it’s true family time and I really value it.
Full disclaimer: when I was single mum, my eldest son and I would watch Gilmore Girls while we ate dinner together. Sometimes when it’s just the kids and me, we’ll eat like this again and I love that too.
9. There are no phones at the table.
10. We try not to use labels.
We try very hard not to compare or label the kids because of their food preferences. So while one of the kids could be said to be ‘fussy’, instead of labeling, we try to be encouraging and allow space to grow and learn new tastes. Honestly, it is awkward for me when other adults expect my kids to eat meals and they refuse, but I also truly think that with food, like with everything, we all have our different preferences, and that’s okay.
Do you have any food rules? I’d love to hear.
P.S. This is an interesting read on why it’s difficult for many families to give their children a variety of foods.