Happy and healthy family mealtimes 

As a coach and trainer I often find myself talking to clients about creating happy healthy family meals, and we are all, always in search of new ideas on ways to eat well together as a family. And for many families, having a fussy eater can make meals less than fun to both prepare and serve.

Sarah Alder of Kitchen Titbits has some great hints and tips below, which she kindly agreed to share with us.

“As a couple, food is probably what binds my husband and I the most. We enjoy eating together, talking about food, watching food programmes, going out to eat, though not cooking together! No, I cook and he photographs. That’s the way it works, and he knows to stay out of the kitchen when I’m cooking, just as I know better than to try and take a photograph of one of our meals! 

When we welcomed our son into the world, we were excited for him to share food with us, to sit at the table and eat together and to see the joy on his face when experiencing new and interesting flavours or the pleasure of visiting a restaurant. And, for a couple of years after weaning, he’d tuck into anything and everything. He’d declare his favourite meal as ‘paella’ to anyone who asked and would request I cook him squid when his peers might not venture further than a fish finger. He would cook with me, tasting as we went and chatting about the ingredients. He was a sponge, soaking up everything I had to teach him. It felt wonderful!

Then, something changed. This little boy who’d try anything turned into a food refuser. A wholesome and varied diet restricted to a few acceptable foods – raw red pepper and carrot, cucumber and sweetcorn, cheese and ham, bread and crackers, cheese and tomato pizza, fish fingers and not much more. Not only that, but he also no longer wanted to get involved in the kitchen. Sob!

Suddenly, I knew just how so many parents feel at meal times. Dread, anger, stress, bewilderment. I just wanted the dining room to open up and swallow me. 

Two years on and we’re not free of the battle with food, but the situation is slowly improving. The acceptable food pool is widening and the call to the table is no longer met with a complete meltdown.

So, how we are coping with the challenge and how can you transform your mealtimes?

One reason why mealtimes are a battle is that our children are constantly being told what to do and when; what goes in their mouths is the only thing they can control. 

You can take some small and simple steps to make family mealtimes more enjoyable. Start with:

Choice - offer them a few meal options that you’re happy with. You’re controlling the choices available but they are making the final decision about what goes on the table.

Requests - ask them to make suggestions to include in your meal plan and be sure to include them as soon as possible after the request is made so that your child knows you’re listening and that their requests are valued. They’ll continue to contribute if you do this.

Involvement – let them help make dinner (you can start with small tasks such as getting things out of the cupboard or tearing apart peppers and build on them as you both gain the confidence to work together). Encourage them to taste as you go, you may find that they’ll try something new as there isn’t the pressure of the dinner table to contend with. You don’t need to worry about them not eating so much at dinner table if you know they’ve been munching as you cook.

Exposure – keep exposing your child to ingredients they won’t currently touch and show them that you enjoy them. They might not eat them just yet but constantly seeing them and you happily eating them, they’ll grow to realise that they are safe to eat and might just start to touch them, sniff them, taste a tiny morsel, eat a little more than last time until they too are tucking in on a regular basis.

Split mealtimes - I know we want to encourage eating together but whilst mealtimes are a struggle and the children are still growing comfortable with a wider range of foods, you could ease the stress by occasionally eating separately to your children during the week. They can dine on their favourite and ‘safe’ foods whilst you get to enjoy more of what you fancy.

Family style - serve meals ‘family-style’. Put food in the middle of the table for everyone to help themselves. You’re controlling what goes on the table, but the children can control what goes on their plate and what they eat. Make what you fancy but be sure to include at least one item that you know your child will eat. Eating this way is also more sociable as you’re passing dishes, asking for more of something, and fighting over the last roast potato!

Thanks again to Lesley for allowing me to share my passion for all things food with you and give you a flavour of what Kitchen Titbits is all about. We share a passion for good food and showing people that a healthy lifestyle and eating well needn't cost a fortune, cause you organisation headaches or eat into what little precious time you have left for you once everything else is taken care of. 

For more tips, tricks and titbits you can find me at kitchentitbits.co.uk over on Facebook as @KitchenTitbits.Sarah or on Instagram and Twitter as @kitchentitbits