Meal times can be a stressful experience with young children. Give your child peas instead of corn and the emotion that surfaces can be quite spectacular. The evening power battles are endless. Before having children, I never imagined getting them to eat a variety of nutritious and delicious food would be such an effort, and often an ordeal.
I grew up in a family of five daughters. Life was busy (and noisy) but we always came together for the evening meal. Our dinners weren’t just meals, they were occasions. Food was something to be excited over, and to be appreciated. I am now trying to encourage the same family meal experience with my own children. Recently I came up with an idea to make mealtimes more fun, because one thing I’ve learnt as a parent is: the more fun a child has, the more open they are to trying new things. And the less stressed I am as a parent!
How to make mealtimes more fun
The midweek meals jar
They say no two children have the same personality and it appears no two children have the same palette, too. I have three children and do you think they all like the same food? Not a chance. Consequently, each of my children has different “favourite foods.” Tired of the whining over whether I boil, roast or mash the spuds, I developed an idea where each child will get their favourite meal once a week. I started this recently and it’s been a big hit.
What you need
- Mason jars. Jars are not just for jam; just take a look at Pinterest for infinite ideas. For this activity you’ll need one empty jar or perhaps two – one for savoury and one for dessert.
- Bamboo forks and spoons. You can purchase these online or from party suppliers. Alternatively you could just use paddle sticks, which are readily available from craft shops.
- Washi tape. This lovely patterned tape has many versatile uses. I have a truck load of it and use it for all sorts of craft activities. Of course you don’t need to use it, and it may not be the most attractive table centerpiece, but kids love colour!
- A sharpie.
How it works
The concept is simple to create. Make sure you involve your children in the set up. It’s fun, and also helps with meal planning for me.
Ask each child to nominate his or her favourite meal (or better still, 2 or 3 ideas). I allowed my kids one healthy choice and one that was more of a “sometimes” meal, like fish ‘n’ chips. I asked them each to choose a dessert too, although desserts are not a regular feature of our meals. Weekends only. Once you are satisfied that everyone has had a voice in the family (don’t forget mum and dad) you can then write the meals down on the bamboo forks with your sharpie, or even better, ask your kids to do it. The more involved they are in the process, the more fun they’ll have, and the more fun they have, the better the outcomes. This is a simple equation and easy to follow for even for the most mathematically challenged mama!
Pop the jar in the middle of the dinner table. At the end of each dinner, ask someone in the family to pick a fork from the jar for the following night’s dinner. It may not be their “favourite” meal, but this way they learn about fairness and that their favourite will be drawn at some stage.
Try this at home. It’s fun, simple, cheap and eliminates the dreaded, “What am I going to cook for dinner?” scenario of witching hour. And you should see how happy they get when they actually do pick their favourite fork!
*Depending on your repertoire and meal rotation frequency you may need a bigger jar. I don’t have many ideas so we’re on a weekly rotation at our house!
What are meal times like at your place? Do you have any tips or tricks to help ease the stress of dinnertime? Please share your wisdom, or war stories. All welcome!!