If you've been around for any length of time you'll know one of my favourite (and free) Meal Time Success tools is the use of family meal times.
There are many evidence-based learning theories that extend to meal times. One well-researched learning theory is MODELLING (also referred to as the social learning theory). Children learn from observing those they spend time with and mimicking their behaviours. For example, the consumption of fruit and vegetables by parents has been demonstrated to be one of the strongest predictors of fruit and vegetable consumption in children (Cooke et al, 2003).
As children get older they are likely to model the behaviour of peers who are most similar to them, but in the earlier years they are often spending majority of their meal times with their parents or caregivers (i.e. YOU). This is the perfect time to reflect on how you eat as a family and how you approach food.
Many studies have shown the benefits of eating as a family on the health and wellbeing of children. Children who share family meals together three or more times a week are more likely to have healthier dietary and eating patterns (including a reduction in the odds for overweight and disordered eating) than those who share fewer family meals together (Hammons and Fiese, 2011).
If you think you might need to review your own meal time habits, this is a great time to do so. Are you eating your five plus serves of vegetables and fruit each day? Are you eating a wide variety of mostly whole foods? Are you drinking water throughout the day?
The common barriers that are brought up when chatting about eating as a family when you have younger children are:
- My children eat too early - I’m not hungry at this time
- My partner and I like to eat together when the kids have gone to bed
- My children eat different food to me
- I don’t have time to sit down and eat with the children
- When my children are eating I’m finally able to clean!
When we talk about family meals we mean at least one parent is eating with the child and ideally eating the same or similar food. Sometimes this means making adjustments to your meal times. But if that feels too overwhelming we suggest serving yourself a small snack or ‘mini meal’ to eat at the same time as your child.
As stressed throughout our Meal Time Success programs, this is not about being perfect. Aiming for 3 family meals per week is a great start and for most families, feels achievable. The aim is to do the best you can in the moment you are in with the resources you have available.
- Cooke et al (2003). Demographic, familial and trait predictors of fruit and vegetable consumption by pre-school children. Public Health Nutrition: 7(2), 295–302. DOI: 10.1079/PHN2003527
- Hammons, A.J. and Fiese, B.H. (2011). Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Related to the Nutritional Health of Children and Adolescents? Pediatrics:127: e1565–e1574.