The main purpose of a dining table is for eating. Obvious? Perhaps. But increasingly food is being eaten elsewhere.
Our meals at the table can be few and far between. Sitting our kids at the breakfast bar or on the sofa means we can keep doing ‘stuff’ while they are eating. Meals at the table can feel like hard work. We often feel like we have a greater success with them shovelling their food in, if they are watching a screen and paying less attention.
Tripp Trapp conducted a research project and their findings were pretty revealing … ‘almost one in four (22%) British families eat dinner on their laps in front of the TV every day of the week. Just half (51%) typically enjoy a family meal at the dinner table and one in ten (11%) parents admit to letting children under 14 eat alone in their rooms.’
So does this really matter? Is it just a sign that society is changing and the traditional way of eating at table has become outdated?
Does matter? Yes. For so many reasons.
What are we gaining by letting our kids eat in front of a screen or away from us?
A quiet life.
An opportunity to get a few more jobs done.
The possibility of more food being consumed.
But what are we losing?
The chance to know each other better.
The time to engage with eye contact and really listen. To communicate and connect.
The opportunity to role model good eating habits (scarily, mindlessly eating in front of a screen has been linked to childhood obesity. How many times do we polish off a bag of treats without even noticing while watching tv?).
The chance to learn social skills and hold a conversation.
The safety and security of sitting in a circle at a table provides.
A fantastic opportunity to sit and not multitask. We need to teach our kids that is it okay to stop.
So often as a parent we look for the short-term wins but neglect to notice the potential of the long-term benefits.
This is not about providing another thing to feel guilty about as a parent. Guilt features WAY to highly in parenting. This is not about making you feel bad, it is about making you EXCITED to do things differently when and where you can. It is about reaping the benefits this can bring you as a family.
You may prioritise eating round the table just once a week on a Saturday lunch time or it might be more often, whatever you can do. Small steps lead to the greatest changes. Table Time is important. There is no getting away from that.
We get that getting your kids to the table and keeping them there can be a pretty tricky task, so here are our top 10 ideas for making eating together a whole lot of fun:
1. Decorate the table. Eating is way nicer if the table looks good. We have given you fun placemats to design and colour. You can have a stash ready for each meal or laminate a few if you are feeling fancy so they can use the same ones over and over.
2. Play a game while eating. Super simple ‘Guess Who’ can be a fun one. Pick a category … you can keep it food related if you like and they can choose to be a type of food. You have to ask questions until you guess correctly who or what they are.
3. Have fun. Presenting the kids food in a shape or design or on different plates or boards keeps them guessing and entertained. Lettuce leaves make great rabbit ears and a tomato makes a fun nose. You can make nearly every meal into a random picture if you fancy getting creative 😊. Gold plastic plates instantly turn a meal into a banquet.
4. Grasp the opportunity. Sit down and eat with them. Even if it is just a mini tea ahead of a bigger meal later. Talk and engage with your children. If you stay at the table, they are much more likely to and you might just learn something lovely about their day.
5. Eat like the French. Serve the dinner in little ‘courses’ rather than an overwhelming plateful. You can give them the exact same meal but split into 3 little dishes … carrot sticks to start, a little ‘main’ followed by a little dessert.
6. Dress for dinner. Maybe not every night (!) but perhaps for Sunday lunch or a special meal. Make it into a big deal that you want them to look fabulous while dining with you!
7. Cook together. We have given you a video workshop and a recipe sheet for a fun and simple 3 course feast to cook together. You can also look the part with the chef hat making. If they have made the food they will be curious to try it. Encourage your children’s interest in food and get them helping you prepare meals. This is definitely a long-term win if they start cooking your tea in a few years!
8. Switch it up. We all find it hard to sit still. So switch seats between courses. Everyone gets to legitimately get down for a moment or two and then they get a new chair. Simple and effective.
9. Make some fun drinks too. A great healthy but vibrant one is making watermelon juice. You literally blend a watermelon (without the skin!!) and it makes beautiful pink juice which tastes amazing.
10. Have your children be the waiter. They can serve every course and the next one can’t come out until each course has been eaten – they will be much more eager to finish!
Essentially you want the table to be a positive place for your family where good things happen. Have a go and just remember on the trickier days, you are aiming for long-term benefits. On the days when only a sofa meal will do, that is ok too. You are doing great.
(Read the other two blogs on TABLE TIME: PLAY and LOVE.