Picture this...It’s the end of the day, everyone is tired from school, work, parenting, sports practice (or a myriad of other reasons) and you sit down for dinner together - maybe it’s the first time you have all been together for the day - and it’s...nice. Perhaps even relaxing. Downright enjoyable. Imagine if there were no complaints about what’s on the plate, what’s not on the plate, or why on EARTH the food is touching! I’m here to tell you, it is possible! It may not happen overnight, and it may not happen every night, but it is realistic for kids and adults to share a table...a meal...and have a conversation about the day without descending into epic meltdowns and food wars.
The dinner table can be a place for families to unwind, re-connect, celebrate the wins, and work through hardship. “Family style” eating establishments have earned their names for a reason. But in the age of perpetual business, constant connection with the outside world, and more take out options than ever before, this sacred time has fallen far too low on the priority list. And as a result, we miss out on little glimpses of our children's days, and often life lessons that come along with them.
If this sounds familiar, consider this year, this month, and this week, the time to make mealtime fun again. If you are on board, read on!
1. Be Prepared. It’s the Scout Motto for a reason. Prioritizing time to look ahead at your schedule for the week will allow you to know what each night looks like. If you know that on a certain night you will be racing in at 6:30 pm with hungry kids and homework to tackle (help!), fire up the crock pot in the morning or batch cook a few things that won’t need much prep time in the when you arrive home. On the flip side, if you know you have an afternoon at home leading into dinner, have the supplies on hand to get the kids involved with dinner. They are more likely to eat something they have invested their own time in making. Meal planning is increasingly popular because it takes the stress out of what’s for dinner tonight, helps you plan a well rounded meal, and will even eliminate a few extra trips to the grocery PER week. Time is money, folks. Invest wisely.
2. Eat the rainbow. Not to be confused with the catchy candy slogan, “taste the rainbow,” which we all know is a far cry from truth. What comes to mind when you think of the word rainbow? Magical? Beautiful? Natural? We are all drawn to vibrant colors and our plate should be no different. Whole foods offer a complete range of nutrient and lucky for us they come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, which is just what kids want to see. Aim to start with three colors (in our house green is a non-negotiable) and add on from there. Referencing a colorful rainbow may help kids be open to trying something that may otherwise turn their nose up at. How fun would it be to show up with a lunch box packed full of color at school?!?
3. Offer CHOICE. No one likes being told what to do, and everyone likes it when given options. Often times we think there is a hard line with what our kids will or will not eat, but we may be imposing this on ourselves. How will they know if they like something like a purple sweet potato (loaded with anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals, and fiber) or kale chips (low calorie, sodium, and fat, high in anti-oxidants and flavor) if we don’t offer it? Encourage yourself to offer one new and different piece of produce per week- it’s a small investment with little to lose and much to gain. Wouldn’t it be nice for kids to say, “may have I bell peppers rather than carrots?” Or “pass the broccoli instead of the peas, please?”
4. Families who eat together, thrive together. One of my fondest memories from growing up is dinner...as a family...every night. Did we always like what was served? Sorry Mom, not always. But did we know what to expect each night? Absolutely- sitting down together to a balanced meal, and the benefits of this span far and wide. Beyond the connection time and the opportunity to bond in an otherwise hectic day are the positive examples that can be set with table manners, listening skill, and social cues. This may take juggling the schedule a bit, and may not work every night, but aim for at least three family meals a week. And if dinner absolutely doesn't work, gather around breakfast.
5. Be realistic. Change may not happen overnight but it’s the small incremental changes that will add up to a healthier lifestyle. Give yourself some grace...not every plate will be your best, so keep improving and use this as motivation to do do better tomorrow. Treat each day, each meal, as time to invest wisely in your health.
Other strategies I incorporate...
Take the kids grocery shopping; I know it can be a challenge wrangling everyone at the market, but as you incorporate all of these tips into your daily life- new produce, choice, help in the kitchen- taking the kids and offering choice will likely increase their “buy in” to the new menu. After all, we want to teach them how to take charge of their own health.
A mother of two, Sarah is a board certified holistic health and wellness coach and works with all ages to incorporate attainable, healthy habits for your life. She coaches at STAT wellness and is also in private practice. VIsit www.growinggrounded.org to learn more.