Updated: Apr 16
With a good chunk of the world hunkering down with stay home orders, in many families, mealtimes look vastly different than they were a few days or for some weeks ago. Times are stressful with things changing overnight, and economic situations are changing for many families as well. If you can take a deep breath and try not to worry about all the things swimming around in your head, there can be some amazing things that come out of this situation, especially with regards to eating.
For many families, mealtimes are a daily requirement, but getting the whole family together to sit down and enjoy the food on the table is often not possible. Now that afterschool activities are on hold and many parents are working from home, this is a golden opportunity to strengthen the family bonds over meals, re-instill the importance of family meals, enjoy food, make do with what is available, and teach amazing feeding and eating skills to your little and not so little ones at home. Let me break it down - you can do this!
1. Ensure you maintain structure. With everyone at home, eating should not be an all-day snackfest with the kitchen open at all hours. Have scheduled mealtimes and snacks to ensure everyone is coming to the table hungry and filling their needs, leaving satisfied. Often children are more used to a schedule, as schools often maintain a regular schedule. Parents don't always follow a schedule and sometimes snack while eating in front of the computer or on the go. With your kids at home, it is important that you are good role models and also follow the schedule, reinforcing the structure of meals and snacks. Your children are watching you and learning from your habits.
2. Make it a point to eat all meals together as a family. Turn off your phones/computers/devices and sit down together for every meal. Here in Singapore, with the changes last week, most parents and children are now at home. This is a big scheduling adjustment if parents are still trying to work, and learning to balance can be challenging. Make it a point to take the opportunity for family meals. Studies show family meals are important bonding times for families which increases everyone’s ability to eat the appropriate amount of food for them, learn to eat a variety of foods, and decreases a child’s likelihood of being overweight and abuse drugs and alcohol.
3. Take time for your meals. There is nothing to rush to when you are stuck at home, so, sit down and enjoy each other’s company as well as the food on the table. Meals do not have to be elaborate. Make what works for you and your family.
4. What’s on the table is not important as long as there is food. If you have soup from a can, Maggie mee or a gourmet homecooked meal, have fun in the process of getting food on the table and enjoy the food and company. It doesn’t matter what is on the table, it’s more important that you take the time and enjoy the meal together. If you don’t like the food on the table, but it is all that you were able to buy at the store, you are teaching your child(ren) how to make do with foods that you may not completely love, but need to fill your need for food. It happens.
5. Include foods you enjoy. Recently Bloomberg published an article that packaged goods and meats are the foods that are selling out in stores in the US, which makes sense as people are unsure how long this will last and want to ensure they do not run out of food. Often people look down on these products as not being as “healthy” as other foods. Don’t worry about what you “should” be eating. Eat foods you enjoy in the amount that satisfies you. You have the ability to maintain the weight your body is supposed to be.
6. Bring your little one(s) into the kitchen with you. If you often do not have time to cook with your child(ren) as schedules are too busy, take this time to have fun in the kitchen together. Again, it doesn’t matter if you are teaching your child how to open a can and put it in a pot to heat on the stove or the in the microwave or follow a recipe and chop ingredients, these are still important skills for your child to learn.
Eating and feeding are important lifelong skills for children to learn. Our lives are often too busy to take the time to sit down and enjoy meals. Take this amazing opportunity to get back into the habit to sit and enjoy family meals. This can be a life changing break which teaches your child(ren) skills they will know for a lifetime.
For more tips on getting started on family meals, the Ellyn Satter Institute has a good guide.