Next time you’re setting the table for a family meal, consider this food for thought:
Research consistently shows that children whose families eat together four or five times a week tend to communicate more, be healthier mentally and physically and get better grades in school.
At The All Good Blog, we think mealtime provides a great chance to catch up and connect, even if it’s sandwiched between homework and rushing off to soccer practice.
So we enlisted three of our favourite parenting bloggers, Laura O’Rourke, Rebecca Cuneo Keenan and Buzz Bishop, to weigh in on how to make stress-free family meals happen – maybe.
AGB: We recommend that you guys grab a drink or a snack because the best conversations need food and wine. We’ve opened a bottle of red here in the office.
Rebecca Cuneo Keenan: I’ve got a fresh coffee!
AGB: That counts!
Laura O’Rourke: Dear Husband is heating me up some shepherd’s pie to eat since I’ll be on the computer instead of making dinner.
AGB: Sounds like a good deal!
LO: Right? He made mac and cheese for the kids too. They’re sitting around the TV watching golf. Totally ironic considering this conversation we’re about to have. That’s what happens when Mom’s on the computer for dinner.
AGB: Let ‘s get started. The topic for this conversation is creating relaxed and stress-free mealtimes (the holy grail of family life). But the intense focus on food in recent years has made meal planning and prep a real source of anxiety for some parents. How do you unplug from all that and focus on happy mealtimes?
LO: It is true. Trying to keep up with all the recent food fads is difficult. When I started making dinners nightly for our family, I had a lot of anxiety. Now though, I have some tried and true favorites – healthy meals that everyone will hopefully eat a bit of – and I rotate through them.
BB: I do the cooking/groceries and find that when I just write it on the calendar on Sunday what we’ll have each night, it’s much easier to get ‘er done instead of in the hectic morning. I know tonight I’m making Thai curry, and I have everything on the counter waiting when I get home.
RCK: What I try to remember is that simple is your friend. One protein, lots of one kind of veg and a starch is fine. Like, salmon and broccoli and bread. Done! And when life is really hectic and you just don’t have time to cook, convenience foods and take out are your friend. Way better for everyone to have a stress-free meal than worry about making everything from scratch.
LO: I agree with Rebecca – some nights it is definitely a blessing to order up some pizza or have a frozen meal in the freezer.
AGB: Is a stress-free mealtime even possible?
LO: Hilarious aside: My baby (11mo) has pretty much stopped eating meals. He throws all his food on the floor as soon as he gets it. But then, as soon as we let him down, he eats it off the floor. Currently doing that now. (Bad mom, or making sure he is getting his nutrients?)
RCK: Totally normal, Laura! I’m pretty sure my daughter did that a few months ago too. Not worth sweating these phases that only last a couple weeks.
LO: Back on topic, I’m not quite sure if stress-free dinner is possible. Our current issue is trying to get the three-year-old to STAY at the table.
RCK: There are days when we are all yelling at each other at the table and I find that if I just put everything into perspective and let the 4yo leave the table and not worry about the 6yo eating with his hands and let the 1.5yo eat off my plate, life is generally better.
AGB: What do you do when your kids refuse to eat what you give them?
RCK: I joke that if two out of three kids eat, it’s a win. Really, I make sure breakfast and lunch are kid-friendly and then cook what I want for dinner. Nobody has to eat anything, they are encouraged to try, but it will be on their plate. So far, so good.
BB: I’m a terrible parent when it comes to feeding my kids. I know they will eat noodles, beans, sushi, chicken strips, veggie dogs, carrots, peppers, cukes, rice. Each night is a variety of that list. I don’t have the patience (yet) to get them beyond.
LO: I choose my battles. Some nights I insist he try something and don’t give other options. Others, I make substitutes, like Mom and Dad have chicken breast, toddler and baby have chicken nuggets. Sometimes I just accept they won’t eat and don’t make it a fight. I exchange their dinner for yogurt or bread.
RCK: If a kid skips a meal, it’s not that big a deal. They’ll eat better at the next one. (And I allow a peanut butter sandwich as a bedtime snack.)
AGB: How about getting together for meals with friends? What’s the path of least resistance to make this work?
RCK: Like, with the kids? Potluck all the way. Everybody bring something and gather at someone’s house. We’ll usually cede the seating to the kids and stand around eating ourselves.
LO: Agreed, often a bit of a potluck is good. Doesn’t put too much stress on anyone and parents can make sure something is included that their kids will eat.
BB: Is it wrong that when we go over to friends’ houses for dinner we pack along our own Tupperware of noodles for the boys? We do it for birthday parties too.
RCK: It’s not terrible, Buzz. But it might be a bit weird.
LO: I don’t think so Buzz. I don’t do that, but I certainly have friends who always bring a backup sandwich for their kids.
BB: The pickiness is a contentious issue in the family. My wife is fine with path of least resistance, I want to lay down the law and starve it out of them. lol.
LO: Ha – Buzz. I have a split personality about it. Or it might depend on how tired I am. Some days I totally starve the oldest out, other times I just give him whatever he wants.
AGB: Great conversation, thanks everyone. To sum it up, when pursuing the dream of stress-free family eating, keep meals simple and planned to avoid stressing out, potluck rules and frozen food can be a life-saver on those really busy days.
Now over to our AGB readers. What are your tips and tricks for having stress-free meals? And how do you deal with picky eaters?