The research is pretty clear—eating together as a family is good for everybody and even helps prevent childhood obesity—but that doesn’t mean getting everyone’s dinner on the table at the same time is easy with a new baby or toddler in the house.
First there’s the fact that every member of your family might be on a different schedule: baby needs to eat every two hours, your toddler is hungry at five, and Mom or Dad doesn’t get home from work until six. Then there’s the issue of different meals—how many parents prepare two (or three) separate meals every dinner? And finally, there’s the sheer exhaustion factor. Running a kitchen in a busy household is a little like managing a very small but busy diner.
So what’s a parent to do about getting nutritious food on the table, at the same time, and making sure there’s at least something for everybody? Turns out there are lots of ways to slice that carrot, and it pays to have a plan.
One meal to rule them all
After months of making grilled cheese sandwiches for her toddler, Shelley Smith, a Miami mom of a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old, made a simple New Year’s resolution. “From now on, there’s one dinner, and if my daughter doesn’t want it, then she doesn’t eat,” Smith said. But there is compromise: “The other night we had lentils. I set it down and knew it was a disaster, so I said I’d put Parmesan on it.”
Still, it’s important to try—and keep offering a variety of different foods so your toddler doesn’t live on chicken nuggets, mac ‘n’ cheese, and hot dogs. And don’t despair if it takes a while. According to the University of Florida, it can take up to a dozen tastes of something new before a child will accept it.
“I don’t stress too much,” Smith said. “If I put kale in front of her, I know she won’t eat it. But the important thing is to offer.”
Not just a crock: planning ahead
Kristen Brown, a mom of a 17-month-old in Pensacola, has a challenge that will sound familiar to many stay-at-home parents: her husband gets home from work around 7 p.m., but they still want to eat together as a family.
She’s solved this in an unorthodox way: her son takes a late nap, then gets up in the late afternoon and is awake and hungry for a family dinner.
“It goes against everything they say,” Brown said. “We do a late nap and he wakes up when my husband gets home from work and we eat, then he plays and has a bath, and then goes to bed around nine or nine-thirty.”
To make dinner easier, Brown plans a menu board at the beginning of the week and does “a lot of crock pot meals.”
The benefits of sharing a meal together in a positive fun atmosphere are many—from eating more fruits, vegetables, and dairy products and maintaining a healthier weight to better social skills and academic grades among teens. Eating together as a family is something you want to start early so you cultivate a healthy eater and a well-adjusted child.
- Eating together has shown to prevent obesity, but it’s hard for families to follow.
- Offer a variety of foods while being patient if your toddler doesn’t bite at first.
- Plan your meals at the beginning of the week to make dinner easier.
- Start eating together with your family when your children are young to institute healthy eating.
As soon as both of my girls were eating table foods they were eating what I made for dinner. I never made separate meals because I knew it would be a hard habit to break. I grew up eating dinner together with my family every night so this to me is important to continue on with my husband and children. My husband does tend to work late once a week or so depending on his schedule so on those nights he usually comes in and finishes dinner with us. I am a SAHM so getting food on the table every night around the same time hasn’t been an issue, but I plan to go back to work full time next year though so we will see if things change. Hopefully I will be able to manage it still, but will probably push dinner and bedtime up by an hour or so!
This is a great article. I love to cook and I have a busy work schedule myself. On the days I work late I do a crock-pot meal so we are ready to sit down to eat right after I walk through the door. I can relate to your analogy of a “diner”. I have felt like this on many occasion trying to make sure everyone is happy. I have a couple picky eaters in my house. Finally I made a rule that everyone has to eat or at least try a small portion of the meal served. I am happy to say I am no longer a “short order cook” and my picky eaters are becoming more adventurous in the foods they will try. And what do you know…they have found they actually like most of them! 🙂
Eating together as a family is very important to me, but I’m waiting another year or so to make it happen. Right now my boys (2 and 4) eat together at 5:00, take a bath and bed at 6:15/6:30. My husband and I talk with them while they eat, so it’s sort of a family dinner, we just aren’t eating. There are reasons why we don’t eat together just yet. My husband is the primary cook of the family and he doesn’t get home until 4:30 and neither of us are ready to eat at 5. The next reason is my husband and I really enjoy eating together just the two of us and maybe we’re selfish, but we’re not ready to change that just yet. Like I said, I grew up eating a family dinner every night and I look forward to that, but just not yet! When they go to bed a bit later, we’ll jump on the bandwagon 🙂 Great article!
We do that at least once a week- when I cook a dinner that is more involved and isn’t ready by 6PM. It’s nice to enjoy some twosome time.
While I rarely use a crockpot, I do make a menu board each week. It helps tremendously as I barely have energy to cook dinner after work, let alone energy to go to the store and plan what to make, too!