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How to have family meals

Although we all know the benefits of having family meals, not everyone knows how to successfully start the tradition of getting together for a meal.  Can newborn babies be at the table for a meal?  Does it have to be every single night?  Can you have a family meal while watching your favorite TV show?  These questions are honest and it’s important to know the answers before trying to start having family meals.

The most important concept about family meals is the fact that it may be the only time in the day that family is together and do to the fact that everyone enjoys a meal.  Similar to the traditional “Family Game Night” which encourages family to get together for some kind of board game or other game that everyone can play, family meals bring the same closeness and fun except it is done as often as you have a meal.  In fact, as long as no one feels forced or pressured to “finish” their plate and there’s at least one food they like, meals are usually so pleasurable that everyone looks forward to them.  But, in order to make family meals a successful tradition, there are various things you should take into consideration when starting to plan for the morning and nightly family get together. 

Below are some tips to get you started on your family meal tradition successfully.  As you read through them, remember that most of the tips can be bent a little to meet your own family’s circumstances.

• Family meals start with two adults eating together.  So if it is just you and your partner, be sure to make time to always eat together no matter how busy you become.  Even if both of you have a lot of office work to do, go ahead and go to the office together and type away while eating and chatting on occasion.  Try not to make it a habit, but do your best to eat together no matter what.

• Babies absolutely love family meals and you should get them involved as early as the first month of life.  Although they cannot eat the food you are eating, at some point their vision becomes clearer and they benefit from watching you and others eat.  Babies learning earlier on make feeding them as toddlers a lot easier.  Even if you are breastfeeding, you can hold the baby in one hand nursing while using your other hand to eat.  Anything is possible when you are creative!

• Always offer new and different foods alongside the ones everyone is familiar with and likes.  For example, if you know your child is a picky eater, be sure to have something he does like at the meal for everyone in addition to all the other food or food groups.  You will have to watch your judgment on this one because if your child’s favorite food is cereal, you may have to set limits on having cereal with dinner.

• Be sure to offer desserts on occasion to please the sweet tooth family member.  In fact, as a way to get your oldest child to come have dinner period you can explain that there will be a dessert that they can enjoy afterwards.  This works really well children of all ages.  After all, who doesn’t like to be rewarded for good behavior at a family meal with a special treat?

• Remember, if your child or children do not eat like you expect them to, just be patient.  Focus on making the family meal pleasant and enjoyable for everyone.  Ignore any behavior like only eating bread and drinking milk before the folding of the arms.  Instead, ask the child how everything is going and what they did today.  At some point the child will start realizing that bread and milk aren’t enough to be truly full in addition to the fact that their behavior is out of place at the family table.

• Family meals do not ALWAYS have to be at the same time each night and morning, but you should try to.  For younger children having an irregular time of breakfast and dinner makes them more likely to overeat and feel insecure about eating.  As for teenagers, the older they get, the more they have make plans of their own so it’s important to establish mealtimes regularly so that they know to plan around it.
Now, this advice works perfect if you are starting from scratch.  However, if you already have a family and haven’t established meal times, it is important to allow everyone to get adjusted at their own pace.  Toddlers can accept change rather quickly if you are consistent.  In fact, usually in less than a week a toddler will get the picture of how family meals are starting to work now.  Older children take a few months because they will carry more memories of the days when there was no organization to meals.  And finally, teens may take even up to a whole year because everything they have learned must be unlearned, but it is possible and in the end they will appreciate your efforts.
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