1. Set aside regular times to eat together
When you put these times in your weekly schedule, you’re all more likely to be there. Having your meal at a table, with the television and phones turned off, can make this time even more special.
2. Reduce the rush
If you allow around 20-30 minutes for family meals, it gives your children plenty of time to eat. They’ll have the chance to try new foods and develop good eating habits. This also gives you time to relax, chat and enjoy your family.
3. Get everyone involved
Involving your children in choosing and preparing family meals increases the chance that they’ll eat it. It can also encourage fussy eaters to try new food.
Even young children can help with preparing family meals. For example, they can wash fruit and vegies, or toss salads. They can also help by setting the table and even decorating it with flowers.
4. Use family meals as a chance to talk
Family meals can be a great way to keep up with what everyone is doing. But sometimes children can find it hard to put their days into words. If this sounds like your child, it can help to ask your child questions that need more than a yes-or-no answer. For example, ‘Tell me one great thing that happened at school today’.
Another idea might be for everyone to take turns sharing something good and bad about their day. This way your child won’t feel like she’s being put on the spot.
5. Reward good behaviour
When your younger children are eating nicely, using good manners and trying different foods, try to reward them with some descriptive praise. Tell them what they’re doing well. You might even want to use a reward chart to reward behaviour like trying every food on the plate or saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
Avoid using food as punishment or bribes. For example, it isn’t a good idea to say, ‘If you eat your broccoli, you can have some ice-cream for dessert’. This can make your child more interested in treats than healthy foods.
6. Be creative with mealtimes
When you have the time and opportunity, having some fun with mealtimes can give the whole family something to look forward to. For example, on a weekend you might:
make pancakes for breakfast
have a picnic at the park, in your backyard or on the lounge room floor
invite a special guest over for dinner, like a friend, grandparent or neighbour. This can also be a great way of getting to know your older or teenage child’s friends.