Eating as a family is vital, studies show families who regularly eat dinner together are happier and healthier.

The power of family meal

Eating together as a family is more than just a meal, it’s a time for a family to build its own identity and create family traditions.

The family meal is when family bonds strengthen and when cultural diversity can be explored and respected. It’s a time when healthy eating habits, good table manners and social skills can be nurtured and developed.

To gain maximum benefit from family meals, a little thought needs to go into the process as well as the food.

Set the scene - making the meal together a ritual

  • Schedule regular meals together as a priority. It may not be possible 7 nights a week, but do it as often as you can.
  • It doesn’t always have to be dinner, a weekend brunch, breakfast or lunch is usually a relaxed meal opportunity.
  • Keep the same table rules for everyone - no phones, no television, and no electronics.
  • Everyone to bring manners and consideration for each other to the table.

Making mealtimes relaxed and fun

A relaxing and enjoyable mealtime starts with serving food kids love, and no, we’re not suggesting treats or takeaway favourites. There are many healthy tasty dishes that get kids (and adults) to the table. Like bolognaise, lasagne, sausages, spaghetti and meatballs, or roast beef and roast lamb.

A meal is about sharing, and the sharing part can be fun when you serve beef or lamb wraps and kebabs or beef fajitas. Place the makings on a tray and pass the tray around so everyone can help themselves. This could be for dinner or lunch at the dining table, in the backyard or on a picnic rug.

Or make it a meal night. Tuesday’s beef taco night, or Wednesday’s chilli lamb stir-fry night etc.

Fussy eaters? Shifting the emphasis from what or how much the kids are eating to how yummy it is

Resist making different meals for fussy eaters. Some kids (particularly the under fives) practice selective eating – keep offering new foods regularly.

Don’t let one or two refusals make you give it up.

  • Do you know it may take kids up to ten times of being introduced to the same food before they take an interest in it?
  • Offer a few choices at mealtimes, let them serve themselves and choose what and how much they’d like. This way it lets the kids believe they’re in control.
  • Rather than placing the veggies on their plate, offer two or three choices in serving bowls. Make it a rule they can only refuse one type.
  • Have at least one food that the children like at each meal.

Get the children to lend a hand - when kids help prepare a meal they're more likely to eat it

  • Let them help. Plan and shop together.
  • Ask their help to prepare the meal.
  • Encourage them to set the table – make it fun – have bowls and chopsticks when you’re having a stir-fry, or flowers from the garden.
  • Moreover, if you’re lucky, maybe they’ll help clean up.

'Recipe' ideas for good conversation

Show your children that you enjoy their company. Remember dinner is just as much about the conversation as the food.

  • Have a regular mealtime discussions - What was the best thing that happened to you today? Or the biggest challenge?
  • Talk about your day, share news - I’ll tell you one thing that happened to me today
  • Talk about the food that the family is eating - Who can guess what ingredients are in this beef casserole?
  • Reminiscence, share childhood memories - When I was little we’d have a lamb roast every Sunday. This recipe for spaghetti and meatballs, is the same one my mother used, and her mother before that, and that’s why I’d like to make it with you!
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