Put picky eating behind you with this simple act: Family meals
We’ve talked about this simple yet powerful “intervention” for picky eating in the past and we will say it again-
Family meals are one of the single best ways to teach your baby or child to eat a wide
variety of food, to have a positive, healthy relationship with food, and to succeed in other areas of life, like school!
There's a good amount of research which finds a solid association between family meals and positive developmental and health outcomes for children. We will note first that many studies aren't able to fully separate out whether the benefits found in the research examining family meals are due specifically to the family meal or to other associated characteristics- like families who eat together also tend to have higher socioeconomic status and a mother who doesn't work (working full time +cooking for and eating with your family = a LOT of work, we know). But nonetheless there are MANY positive outcomes associated with family meals including:
♥️ Family discussions at mealtime supports early literacy. The more positive words a baby hears before the age of 3, the better for the infants communication development. Meal discussions tend to include different words than those found in kid's books, which adds to a wider vocabulary.
♥️ For school age kids family meals are a strong predictor of academic success.
♥️ Family meals are linked to less depressive symptoms for teens and overall improved psychological well-being for children.
♥️ Kids who participate in family meals tend to eat more healthy foods.
Many studies find benefits with 3 or more family meals per week. More is certainly not a problem but to be realistic for many families who work full time, often multiple jobs, 3 is an excellent start and do-able for many families.
HOW DO I MAKE THE MOST OF FAMILY MEALS?
Also, benefits are believed to be associated with the feeling of stability, closeness, and comfort family meals can create so it's important your meals do indeed generally support those feelings!
Family meals may be "part and parcel of a broader package of practices, routines, and rituals that reflect parenting beliefs, and priorities. Interventions... may be successful only if they can change the family habits that tend to go along with eating as a family." (Musick & Meyer 2014).
🗝At least one parent should be present for and engaged in most of the baby's meals sharing THE SAME FOODS as the baby.
✔️ We get it, time is a scarcity and doing family meals are a stretch for many families. Yet between 6 months and ~3 years old kids should never eat alone anyways (safety) so someone is always there watching or helping already. Why not eat with him or her? Try not to let your child eat alone as often as possible.
🗝 Model. Modeling what you want your child to do is so important. Babies learn through touching, feeling, and watching. Give your baby an example to learn from. They need visual examples of what eating looks like.
✔️ The goal is to introduce baby to variety- to lots of flavors, textures, colors even when they refuse or seem uninterested
🗝 Serve your baby/child the same food as yourself. Avoid special “baby food” or “kid meals”. Eating with your baby keeps you slightly "distracted" with your own meal which reduces the opportunity to insert yourself into your kiddo’s meal.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
We know this may sound impossible for some. Many can't afford the luxury of consistent family meals. This is just another nugget to keep in mind when creating positive loving parenting routines.
Connect with us if you need support or drop a ♥️ in comments if we should do a follow up post on fitting family meals into busy lives!