When talking about managing children’s weight, addressing picky eating, or promoting healthy relationships with food one of the most notable factors is how frequently children are exposed to family meals. This isn’t factored by what is served at the family meal or if the food is organic, or home cooked, or paleo, or vegan or McDonalds. We in the paediatric health care community care most about whether or not children are able to have regular exposure to family meals as opportunities for parents to model positive eating.
For many families that can’t happen so often. Personally, with young kids, they only have the opportunity to eat with their father on the weekends but during the week with kids schedules and works schedules not always jiving it just doesn’t always happen.
The holidays (whatever ones you celebrate) are often a time where families come together over dinner. the nature of the holidays, statutory holidays etc means that children are exposed to more family meals in the month of December than any other time in the year. As parents that means that we have some serious thinking to do about what impressions, beliefs and opinions around food our children will be left with come January.
If we use the opportunity of these family meals to pressure our children to try new foods, or chastise them for taking a second helping of their favourite holiday dish they will be left with the memory of these meals as pressure filled, uncomfortable and shaming. the saddest reality of that is that even with the significant impact we can make on our kids perception of family meals, this will probably have almost no significant impact on their food choices this year but can have significant impact on their future food choices and food relationships.
This year we as parents need to ask ourselves what our goals of the meal are. Holidays are not about managing our children’s calories, or forcing them to try new foods. These meals are an opportunity to spend time with family and friends and enjoy a meal all together. If we achieve that, then let’s give ourselves a pat on the back.