What were meals like for you growing up?
I’ve used this simple, but insightful question to help clients process their formative eating years out loud. In counseling, many adults will consider how they observed their parents communicate and navigate conflict and how that impacts them today one way or the other.
But few adults and parents for that matter consider how they engaged in meals as children and how that is a primary influence in how they handle meals today.
We rarely slow down enough to consider, “Why we eat this way?” or “Is there a better way for our health and family to approach the dinner table?”
In this past article and in coming articles, I’ll refer to a number of the studies that show the benefits of family meals, but for now I would like to share three thoughts as you consider prioritizing meals as a family.
First, have a designated space.
This might seem obvious for some, but many families grew up with meals on the run or an ‘every person for themselves’ approach. This brought individualism to an experience that throughout human history has been deeply communal.
So first, choose a spot in your home where you will share your meals. Create a game plan and do your best to follow the plan. For most that’s simply a dinner table, others it’s a breakfast bar. The point is to have a common space, free of distractions (screens) in which you can eat your food, look at each other and for those that get done first, be bored together. There’s something deeply enriching about this experience if you’ll commit to it.
Second, slow down!
You’ve heard the sayings, “I’ve got to put food on the table.” If a primary goal of work is to provide food to eat, why are we often so busy that we are rushing to get away from each other at that table!
Slow down. Enjoy the fruits of your labor with the people entrusted to your home. I’m not advocating we follow the French and begin having 2-4 hour long dinners, but certainly we would all do better to just slow down and make dinner together the goal of our evening rather than the footnote.
Third, make memories at your meals.
When we have a norm of eating together in the same space with the same people, we can enjoy variety for special meals. This can include things like inviting neighbors/friends/family over or choosing to enjoy a breakfast picnic outside or even on the floor in the living room on a blanket. If you have children, tell them about the people you are having over and why you are having them over. This makes them involved in the process from setting the table to looking for them out the window. Next, you can allow your children to choose a portion of the meal or even their utensils.
When our children are young, they’ll benefit greatly if we allow them to experiment and become exposed to the many textures that food brings. The sooner we can begin this process the better! You are making memories after all, so don’t try to clean them up along the way, let nature take its course, show by example how to be polite and use utensils, relax and clean up after everything is over. They’ll improve as they age. Children are learning and engaging in pre-feeding steps (exposures to foods) when getting age-appropriately messy or touching (“playing”) with their food.
Consider the past, learn from the past, but choose not to be stuck in the past. I’d be honored to help you get UNstuck:
Take my starter course for building healthy momentum for adults called ‘Adapt & Overcome’
If you have or are regularly around/feeding little ones my upcoming ‘Raising Adventurous Eaters’ course is tailored for understanding, navigating, and remaking picky eaters (sign up to join my mailing list and be notified when the course released this fall)
Or if you’d like to explore one on one virtual counseling schedule a free initial consultation.