Family Meals: Come and Get It
What could be a better time to interact as a family than when you are sitting around the table at mealtimes? Sharing food together is a great introduction to the joys of socializing for a toddler, so concentrate on enjoying each other. While your parents, in-laws, and even some friends may not approve, mealtime is a time to forget about table manners and peace and quiet.
We all know that eating with a toddler isn’t often relaxing; a sense of humour is essential. If you expect your child to participate in long group discussions, you and he will go crazy. Let him get up and play when he’s finished eating. I know one family with a two-year-old who eat most of their meals outdoors on a picnic table when the weather’s good. Says the father: “Our daughter loves to eat, partly, I think, because she loves these casual meals. We also can keep an eye on her as she runs all over the grass.”
If you grew up in a family where there was always fighting at meals, where children were expected to be seen and not heard, or where you were quizzed on how much you knew about current events, you may find it difficult to start a new tradition, but you’ll find the rewards worth it. Save your arguments until after dessert, Stress may cause your child to nervously overeat or to refuse food.
When both parents work, family meals are obviously not going to be an everyday affair. But whenever possible, for example, on weekends and perhaps for weekday breakfasts, try to make time to eat together as a family. Says one mother: “My husband and I come home from work after my children have eaten. But a few times during the week they have a second dinner with us.”
This emphasis on family togetherness may sound as though you and your partner have to give up your romantic candlelit dinners. On the contrary, these cozy encounters are necessary to be happy parents. Let’s admit it, conversations are a bit different when your toddler is there. So what about sitting down with a cup of coffee while your toddler eats dinner and saving your appetite for after his bedtime? Your toddler cares about your company, not whether you are eating. Remember, if you aren’t home during the day, be sure to ask your caregiver to join your toddler at meals.
Many parents tell me their most persistent memory of meals is that of their mother always standing by the stove preparing the food but never sitting down with them. In television commercials today the mothers (and sometimes the fathers) still rarely seem to pull out a seat for themselves. This frenetic running around by the parents passes the message to their toddler that meals are just for eating, not for speaking.
Parents who take their cooking very seriously and spend vast amounts of time on complicated preparations are bound to feel hurt or angry when their toddler doesn’t appreciate their efforts. Either their child won’t eat a decent portion, or she’ll play with the food, or worse yet she’ll tell you she prefers peanut butter to your masterpiece.
Simplicity goes a long way. Meals are much more relaxing if you have them ready before your toddler sits down. There’s certainly nothing wrong in buying take-out food once in a while. Or, involve your toddler in the cooking and setup. It’s better for your toddler to have a less impressive dinner if it means that she gets her parents’ company.
Says one mother: “I used to spend an hour or so rushing around getting the meal together and then serving it to my two-and-a-half-year-old. He kept calling to me while I was in the kitchen, but I felt too involved to talk. Then I figured out that I would get him to help set the table and cook. We have great fun together. So what if the food wouldn’t pass muster with an adult gourmet.”