5 ways to make mealtimes with young children about connection – not chaos

Baby sitting in a highchair with a bowl on his head

If you’re a little bit at your wits’ end with your family’s mealtime madness, lean a little closer to the screen because it doesn’t have to be that way!

1. Be flexible and don’t expect too much

Adjusting expectations and being mindful of the small wins – “you ate four spoonfuls of veggies!” or “thank you for using your ‘inside voice’ during dinner” – can help reframe what mealtime success might look like for your family.

Positive reinforcement of the progress your child is making makes eating together something to look forward to – and can help set an optimistic tone for the rest of the day.

It might also be helpful to realise, however, that even the most organised parents find sitting down to eat with their kids a little bit of a challenge at times, so you’re in good company.


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2. Allow room for adventures (aka mess!)

What looks like chaos to you might simply be adventurous exploration for your child. Think about what your little one might be experiencing as they learn more about spending time together, develop their fine motor skills and adjust to new foods. 

Letting kids explore the texture and taste of foods on their own terms helps them to develop a healthy early relationship with nutrition. Also don’t be too dismayed if they refuses certain foods. It can take up to a dozen taste-tests before your child accepts a new food, so give things a little time.

But if the mere idea of all that food being flung around the room and not being chewed and swallowed as it was intended makes your blood pressure start to rise, take comfort in the fact that you can easily top up that little tummy with easy-to-serve baby foods like the Woolworths Smiling Tums food range – not only are they nutritious, they have no added sugar because they’re naturally sweetened with fruit or veggies, have no added salt, and no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, which makes them an essential pantry staple. 

Baby eating from a Smiling Tums baby food pouch

3. Make conversation a mealtime ritual

Make talking about your day a family ritual, no matter how young your child is. Equating socialising with eating will not only encourage your child to look forward to these chatty mealtimes, but general conversation shifts the focus well away from foodie squabbles too.

As your child grows, they can take their turn talking about the “best thing” that happened in their day, setting the tone for positive mealtimes and providing a predictable and clear framework for daily connection.

4. Make things yummy, pretty and fun

You don’t have to make meals Pinterest-level pretty, but know that when things look delightful, small children tend to be delighted.  And when they’re delighted, they’re more inclined to be cooperative and excited about eating up.

A cute bowl, a pretty placemat, a natty lunchbox or a colourful napkin can all help make mealtimes more interesting for your child. And focusing on fun presentation and delicious flavours won’t hurt a bit either!

5. Be patient – and enjoy the ride

While hosing the pumpkin-smeared highchair down for the seventh time this week might seem a little wearing, know that mealtimes with your baby really do lay the groundwork for a lifetime of good nutrition and healthy eating. Also? Before you know it, those precious little people will be grown up and skipping family mealtimes to have dinner with their friends. Gasp! Noooo!

So remember to take a breath, slow things down and appreciate as many of those pumpkin-splattered-days-of-carnage as your sanity will allow.

The days are long, but the years are short, mums and dads!

 

This post is sponsored by Woolworths Smiling Tums.

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