4 tips for stress-free family mealtimes

By Jun 16, 2022 Tips

What do mealtimes look like in your household? Are they fun, enjoyable experiences? Or, are they tiresome, sometimes chaotic, and often stressful? Make mealtimes a joyful experience for the whole family with these 4 easy tips from UAE-based dietician and pediatrics specialist, Jordana Ventzke. 

If your family mealtimes resemble challenging and stressful experiences, then rest assured – you’re not alone. For many households with young, and sometimes even older children, mealtimes are filled with tension – a far cry away from the joyous, family environment we perhaps had once envisaged. 

However, there are various ways in which we can improve this experience – making the time spent at the dinner table a time of joy, instead of one of angst. Here are four things to consider when embarking on your next family mealtime:

Ensure a comfortable seating position

During mealtimes, it’s important that feet are grounded as this not only makes us more stable and more comfortable, but reduces the risk of choking. If you are still using a highchair, make sure that it has a moveable footrest. If your child is older, I really encourage you to use a booster seat with a footrest. You’ll notice that a child who doesn’t sit properly at the table will often sit on their knees, have their legs pinned up against the table, or even be standing with one foot on the floor and the other on the chair. 

Engage in calming pre-dinner activities

As with many experiences during a child’s development, it’s important to give them a moment of preparation before a meal. For example, alerting the child that “dinner will be ready in 10 minutes,” allows a child to prepare their nervous system for what’s to come. During this time, encourage them to focus on a calming game, such as reading, or doing a puzzle. Again, this helps with calming the nervous system, rather than setting it to high alert with a game that is fast moving, such as playing outside, or even watching TV. If our nervous systems are calm, we are better able to sit and stay seated and our appetite improves.

Consider what you are bringing to the table

When preparing a meal, ask yourself: Where is your nervous system at? Are you stressed out? The answers to these questions will dramatically impact what our children experience, potentially changing where their nervous system is at. If you find yourself stressing before mealtimes, take a moment in the 10-minute build-up to take a few calming breaths. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 and breath out for 6 – 8 counts. This helps to shift the nervous system from one of stress, to calm.

Change the conversation

It’s important to remember that we mustn’t force our child to eat what’s on their plate. Try to move the conversation away from asking them to try the food, or reinforcing that they will like what they’ve been given – using phrases such as “you ate it last night.” Instead, if you do discuss food, try to talk about it in a descriptive or educational manner, e.g. describe how broccoli looks like a tree, or if your child is older you can start to talk about what the foods do in our body. But never ever encouraging them to eat or try the food. Remember that our role as parents is to provide the meal, and our child’s is to decide what they will eat of that meal.

Stay tuned for more family-friendly eating tips from Jordana in the coming weeks.

Read more: Creative plating tips: How to get kids to try new foods