Starting family meals

“When should we start having Family meals?”

Now! This may be the most important thing you do to ensure your bub grows up to enjoy the right amount of a variety of healthy food.

So what are Family Meals?

The check list

Eating at set times every two to three hours.

Three main meals.

Two to three mid meals.

Sitting down.

Together.

Pull bub up to the table facing everyone, get them involved NOW!

This is the age where the time to eat starts being your idea and not your bubs. Starting bub on solid food will mean you start setting up family meals. It will be hard to get your toddler back to the table if you don’t set patterns now.

You may start with one planned occasion, two and then three as the pattern is established. You will be starting a meal structure by putting mid meals in place, making the timing of eating or breast/formula feeding your idea. Then as we head towards 11 and 12 months of age, your bubs eating pattern will be set, with three main meals and a mid meal. 

Really, really important is that you (and as many others in the house as possible) are eating as well!

Why eating at set times is important

Meals won’t go as well if baby is grazing.

When there are no structured meal times and there is grazing, it’s harder for children to eat the right amount. They won’t tune into their feelings of hunger and fullness and may over or under eat. They are less be likely to be interested in the nutritious meal you’ve served and more likely to be naughty.  A lot of fussy eating behaviour can be addressed by getting your meal pattern in place.

When children can rely that a meal is coming soon, they won’t become obsessed with food. Children who are described as compulsive eaters and act like they can’t be filled up or satisfied, may not have been provided with reliably timed meals. The child doesn’t know when they can rely on food coming and therefore overeat when they can. The outcome of this can be really important for long term health and weight management.

When bubs are provided food at reliable times, they will know that a meal is just around the corner. They then have the opportunity to be satisfied at the meal and won’t be preoccupied with food between meals.

Grazing on food can frequently lead to children having problems with their teeth and can lead to more work for you, cleaning up the sticky hands prints.

Why is eating together important?

The best ingredient at a meal is you!

Family meals offer emotional and social learning, with the feeding relationship important for emotional development. When your bub enjoys and behaves well at meals, over time they’ll learn to eat almost everything you eat. You being there is absolutely essential.

They’ll eat better with you there and will be more courageous when it comes to eating new foods. When you’re eating the same food they’ll know that the food is safe and they’ll be more willing to try it.  Providing regular family meals reassures your child that you make them a priority.

Other benefits of the family meal

Research shows that children who grow up having family meals are less likely to become overweight, abuse drugs, and smoke. They feel better about themselves, get along better with others and do better at school.

What to do

Get the meal habit into the house and then get everyone there… make eating together a priority.

Life gets busy and I’m sure you can think of lots of reasons why getting together for a meal may be difficult. You might be used to not having family meals in your life growing up. There will be avoidable and unavoidable things stopping you from getting to a family meal. Make sure whoever can get there, eats together and try to adjust your movements so you can all get there as often as possible.

Don’t have two eating times, one for you and one for them. It may be that you eat a little bit earlier and they eat a little bit later.

Keep it mellow

Your goal is to make meals a pleasant time. Be there for your child, keep them company, have mellow chats, help them with what they need and enjoy this time yourself!

Don’t pick your battles…don’t pick ANY battles!

Don’t use this time to have a ruck with your partner, other children, or to bring up negative topics likely to upset people. Your child will get upset. Once they are upset the chances of good eating go down big time.

Your child will not want to try any new foods and their appetite will be overcome by their feeling of being upset. Trying to restrict or pressure your child’s eating will turn dinner into a battle ground. A lot of meals have been ruined with fights over vegetables!

Mealtime mess

It will be messy…really messy! It should be. Stay calm and patient. It’ll help your baby to enjoy mealtimes.

Embrace the mess and play.

Your bub needs to get to know the food and this can be by playing and throwing. Your baby in a highchair, may learn about things like height and depth by dropping things from the chair. If it becomes all about throwing food around, then you’ll know they are not hungry and the meal should end. 

Make sure you have a mess management system! Feed above tiles or another easily cleanable surface. Get a plastic sheet under the highchair if your table is on carpet and have a washcloth handy (don’t clean bubs during the meal).

Distractions

Don’t have any distractions at the table making eating compete with other activities. It’s all about you guys and the food. This way we’ll be much more likely to fully tap into our hunger and fullness feelings and know when to stop eating Thus is a very handy skill for weight management and ongoing health.

What about the food?

Your job is to provide food and bub decides to eat or not. It’s you who makes the choices of what is served. You might as well make it food you like! You need to stay motivated with your job as food provider. So enjoy the food!

Tips
  • Everyone at the table gets the same foods
  • Provide both familiar with new foods
  • Provide preferred foods with less preferred.

The Mid Meal (Snack)

We’d rather call this the mid meal than a snack to emphasise the importance of this meal. These meals count and are not just food handouts. Infants and children have little tummies and need opportunities to eat nutritious foods more often (every 2 -3 hours).

Tips
  • Sit down for the mid meal
  • Make sure there are foods available that are hearty and filling enough to satisfy your child
  • Let your child eat as much as they are hungry for
  • Make sure that you are there!

    Grazing in prams, your meals will suffer.

  • Don’t let your child have food between meals except for water
  • Don’t let them carry around a bottle or a sippy cup.

Your child being hungry between meals times is their problem not yours. They will get used to this very quickly and know that a meal is coming soon. 

Keep your cool and keep the structure. Your job is getting meals and snacks onto the table at reliable times. If they are dictating when the meals are and what is provided, you will run into problems.