The importance of shared meals

Now that Diego can eat pretty much anything I really enjoy mealtime with him. It’s fun to see the strange and often funny ways that he picks out which morsels to eat and how he puts them in his mouth. On days when my husband works Diego and I will have breakfast on our own since Diego wakes up long after my husband leaves the house.

The first thing I do when we get downstairs is give him his cup of milk. He sips on this while I get breakfast ready. Here are some of our favorite breakfasts:

  • Cheerios, applesauce, yogurt
  • Scrambled eggs, slice of toast, applesauce or yogurt
  • Oatmeal and a banana
  • Cottage cheese, applesauce, an egg
  • Waffle with cut up banana and strawberries
  • Pancakes

Lunch will usually consist of leftovers. We often eat them picnic-style in the living room. I throw down a blanket on the floor and we sit together. Diego now loves to share his food and he feeds me often, sometimes it’s a discarded piece that has been on the floor. He also likes to steal food from my plate. When you eat your meals with a toddler you learn that this open up a whole new world. They are a  learning opportunity. Everything from table manners to utensil proficiency is learned at mealtime. Language development is also positively reinforced at mealtime. I look forward when Diego will be able to participate in our dinner conversations, but for now we engage him in his babbling by identifying what he’s eating, encouraging him to use his fork, and redirecting him when he decides that when he’s done with his cup he’s going to toss it off his highchair.

I also believe that healthy eating habits start at home, right at our dinner table. I’ve been lucky that so far Diego is not a picky eater. He will try just about anything and even though he might not like it at first he usually comes around. I’ve noticed that he has some preferences when it comes to textures. For example he will eat a pureed strawberry but it will take a little coaxing to eat a piece of one. My philosophy is to encourage but not force him to try or eat anything. I also don’t believe in making him clear his plate. This sets up a negative eating habit where he can end up eating past satiation. Most days he eats everything, others he picks at stuff and hardly eats anything. As long as he’s healthy and growing I’m not going to worry about it.

To sum up, shared mealtimes are important because:

  1. Family is important. It creates confident kids.
  2. Language development is aided by this interaction at mealtime.
  3. Manners are taught through practice and it’s never too early to start.
  4. Food is a learning experience. New textures and flavors expand a child’s horizons.

Food is a basic need that must be met everyday. I think that experiencing new things at mealtime can translate into a child that looks forward to new experiences. Being adventurous isn’t limited to things you do, or places you go. Food can be a teaching tool in so many scenarios. Years from now when he’s in school, learning about new cultures I can use food to bring that culture to him. How people eat and what they eat around the world is fascinating.

Similarly, baking is a great application of math and science. As soon as Diego is old enough I plan to bring him into the kitchen. Basic cooking skills as well as food safety are things I believe everybody should be competent in. Preparing food for our family should be something that Diego shares in. I think it creates a sense of community, responsibility and affection. I read somewhere once that work is love made visible, so is cooking and shared mealtimes are part of that love.

IMG_4503

Want more information about family meals, as well as recipe ideas and other resources? A day after writing this post (I pre-write and schedule them) I came across this pledge and site dedicated to family meals.  Disconnect to reconnect is a campaign that seeks to encourage families to pledge one day a week where they disconnect from social media and enjoy a meal together. Check it out!