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.