Have you ever had your little ones refuse to open their mouths and eat, throw food on the ground or feed the dog their dinner? Anna Bordignon, founder of website munchcooking.com and author of award-winning cookbook Munch: Seasonal Cookbook for Baby and Family presents her tips for making mealtimes fun.
Mealtimes should be a time for the family to enjoy one another and chat about their day. Babies can join in the conversation in their own way, although most of the time they like to simply listen, watch and learn. If mealtimes are rushed and food is forced on babies and children they will probably declare mealtimes as war time. However, if you can relax and try to enjoy the time, children will start enjoying it as well. Remember meals can be nourishing emotionally as well as physically.
- Eat at the table
Always sit at the table. Never eat while watching TV. If you eat at the table then the focus is on the family and the food.
- Make food look appetising
I do not mean for you to spend your evening making pretty images out of food on your children’s plates, unless you do have the time. For me, time is precious and I am always looking for easier ways of doing things. Simply make a face by making two eyes and a mouth on the plate or try using cookie cutters to make shapes. Sometimes you can just separate out the food types as kids don’t like it when food is all mixed up.
- Make meals that your kids can put together
My kids love it when we have sushi or wraps as they get to put what they want in it. Of course this does not apply to babies, but from three years onwards it can be fun.
- Eat with your kids
I know this is not always possible, especially for those parents that work outside the home. Children under 10 years of age really need to be fed their dinner somewhere between 5-6pm. I often eat with my kids so they can follow my way of eating. Although I do treasure the times when I can eat quietly with my hubby.
- Cook one meal for the whole family
I am certainly not lazy but I am realistic with my time. I have always cooked one meal for the whole family, even when my kids were (and one still is) babies. I make a meal that I can give a portion of to my baby. It may just mean that I need to take out some spices or mash a portion for the baby. One of my bugbears is that when you go out, often restaurants have children’s menus that are full of fried food while nutritious meals are offered to the adults. When did we start giving our kids less nutritious meals than ourselves?
- Read a book while they are eating
While I was writing our cookbook I spent time researching the top OECD preschool books and I was amazed that the same books came up in each country – a great story is universal. The Giles Andreae books, the Dr Seuss books and the Hairy Maclary books are all classics. Hunt out a great book and read it to your kids while they are having their meal.
- Have quirky eating utensils
I don’t mean go out and buy every trendy eating utensil you can find but at least have some fun items on the table.
- Sing a song
These days people are singing less. Kids like rhymes and many songs have them, so why not sing and eat. It’s a great way to get them to eat without knowing they are eating as they will be side-tracked with singing.
- Talk about the day and what is happening tomorrow
I try to ask my kids how their day was, and what the highlights were. Sometimes we ask baby Ed and we interpret what he is saying.