Watch any television commercial that features family dining and you’ll almost certainly be led to believe that kids sit mute around the table in a stress-free atmosphere while the grown-ups catch up with each other and their day at work. But in reality, after a long day when everyone is tired, harmonious mealtimes with the kids are frequently not the norm as fatigue sets in, behavior falters and frustrations boil over. Relax: you’re not alone! Fortunately, there are some positive steps you can take to make mealtimes with the kids run more smoothly.
High chair heaven
For most young children the concept of sitting still for more than two minutes is totally alien and, combined with their natural tendency to create a mess, this makes for a potentially chaotic mealtime. The good news is that you don’t have to pay the earth for peaceful mealtimes with the kids by looking at the high chairs and investing one. A sturdy, safe model is the basic essential and is ideal for keeping your child in place, especially when you’re moving between the table and kitchen with courses. Kids love the elevated position high chairs offer while those models with an integral tray serve to collect dropped food, saving you time cleaning the floor afterwards.
Time for talking
Engaging the whole family in conversation is a real bonus as it enables you all to unwind and keeps the kids focused throughout the meal. Ask plenty of open questions (“What did you enjoy today at school?”) that encourage the kids to talk at length. Don’t let anyone dominate the conversation; if necessary, have a special object that can be passed around to let the younger family members know when it’s time to talk. Above all, make sure the kids know that mealtimes are their chance to tell you what’s important to them; leave the dull talk about money, bills and jobs until they’re in bed and fast asleep.
Eating out needn’t be a trauma. When traveling with the family, plan to eat out earlier than normal when restaurants will be quieter and there will consequently be less time spent waiting for food to arrive. Take an armory of quiet activities to keep little minds occupied, such as coloring crayons, paper and small (and quiet) toys to fill those short breaks when patience could wane and tempers flare. Also steer away from unusual foods: children will get stuck into their favorite meals, avoiding the frustrating “I don’t like this!” wails which will only send your blood pressure soaring.
Family mealtimes should be special times that everyone values and, whether you hold these occasions every day or every week, putting in place some simple strategies will help to make sure that everything runs smoothly and you get to gradually wind down at the end of a hard day.