The importance of family meals
Introducing your toddler to regular family meals gives them loads of health and social benefits, but is it really possible to enjoy mealtimes with a toddler? Here’s some advice.
At a glance
- The benefits of family mealtimes
- The long term effects on your child
- Tips for happier and calmer mealtimes
- Behavioural advice
We're all in it together
If there’s one thing that pretty much every researcher in the world agrees on, it’s that family mealtimes offer massive benefits for the whole family – including your toddler. Over the years, studies have shown that kids who regularly eat with their families:
Eat less saturated fat and more fruit and vegetables
Are less likely to be overweight, especially girls
Have better language skills because they hear more speech and have more practice processing adult conversations
Have a better sense of family unity, more affection for siblings and a happier outlook
Are less likely to smoke, drink, be depressed or try drugs in their teenage years because of the better communication that family mealtimes bring
Are more likely to do well at school as teenagers.
In an ideal world, we’d all be the Waltons, sitting down around an enormous kitchen table to eat together and share the day’s news. But modern life just doesn’t allow most families to do that.
However, it’s really worth persevering to find even one or two days a week when you can all eat together, especially now your toddler is eating most of the same food you do and at a roughly similar time.
Have a few rules before you start (mainly for the adults and any older children): eat round a table not on the sofa, no TV, no mobiles, tablets or games, no getting down until you decide it’s OK.
Praise your toddler for following the rules (‘lovely sitting!’) and divert their attention from outbreaks of bad behaviour by talking about other things. Try to stay calm if the whole occasion gets stressful: you win some, you lose some. And keep meals simple so you don’t feel you’ve wasted lots of effort and energy if your toddler doesn’t eat much.
Try not to turn the meal into a telling-off exercise, so be prepared to overlook/ignore some minor misdemeanours.
It might not go smoothly the first time, or the second... But keep going and everyone will get used to the idea eventually.
For older kids, children’s cookery expert Annabel Karmel suggests having one night a week where the kids decide what everyone is going to eat – and go with it, if possible. And go shopping with your kids and get them to help you cook so they may be more likely to eat the resulting food.