Family Meals

We discussed previously The Division of Responsibility in feeding healthy children.  Here we would like to expand on that by including more tips from Ellyn Satter and her book Secrets to Feeding a Healthy Family.

Making family meals a priority is essential. Research shows that children who have regular family meals generally eat healthier, get more vitamins and minerals, have less behavioral problems and perform better in school and social situations. When incorporating more family meals, start out with what your family currently eats. Worry about the structure of meal times before expanding the menu. Don’t try to do too much, too fast. Make only one change at a time. For meals to be sustainable, they have to be satisfying.

Why family meals are so important

  • Meals support food regulation and appropriate growth
  • Meals support good parenting
  • Meals provide children with emotional and social support
  • Meals connect us to our history
  • Meals reassure children they will be fed
  • Meals teach children to behave well in polite company
  • Meals teach children to like a variety of food

Guidelines for Meals

  • Parents must choose foods that they find rewarding to plan, prepare, provide and eat
  • Offer everyone in the family the same meal (don’t cater or short order cook)
  • Prepare a meal that includes each of the basic food groups: protein, whole grain, fruits and vegetables, and a dairy or non-dairy source of calcium
  • Include protein, fat and carbohydrate in the meal
  • Including a bread or grain will allow the child something to fall back on if they don’t like other foods offered. Just be sure it is a whole grain.
  • Include fat in food preparation or at the table in moderate amounts (oil, butter/margarine, salad dressing, etc.)
  • Match familiar with unfamiliar food, favourite with not-so-favourite
  • Let everyone pick and choose from what is on the table
  • Teach and expect your children to behave nicely at the table

Introducing New Foods to Children

Your children will learn to like a variety of foods if given the opportunity. Below are some guidelines to remember when introducing new foods:

  • Children’s eating is erratic
  • It takes children an average of 10 to 20 neutral exposures before they eat a food
  • Neutral = no pushing, prodding, persuading, or cheerleading; no bribes, nutrition lessons; lectures
  • For some children, it can take years
  • Children who are rushed and pressured are less likely to like new food, not more
  • During your family meals, there may be times where children are resistant. This is normal. They may truly not be hungry, may be looking for attention or testing their boundaries. Keep calm, allow them to voice their feelings, and be a good example. Worry only about what you can control (offering healthy family meals) and let children decide what and how much they will eat.
  • Your child’s eating will be erratic—he/she may eat one food one day, but not the next.
  • Generally, children will eat only 2 or 3 foods out of the variety on the table.
  • If you are consistent with having family meals and offering a variety of food, over time your child will eat a nutritionally adequate diet—they will get the nutrients and vitamins and minerals that they need.
  • Children model their parents’ likes and dislikes. If parents are negative about certain foods, the children will most likely reject those foods. As a parent, try and remain neutral about foods that you don’t like and refrain from making negative comments about these foods—give your child the opportunity to decide whether they like it or not.

We hope you find this helpful in implementing your own family meals.