Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Meal Time is Family Time

When I discussed what my parenting looks like, I did not specifically address meal time, because to me, being present in his life means he is with us at the table. He has been from the start, and for us that includes involving him in conversation. Even before his plate was on the table, his chair was pulled up with the rest of us. I never gave much thought to doing it any other way. However, the more I look around and research, the more I realize that no shortage of information exists on the benefits of a family dining together-- everything from better grades, reduced sexual activity in the teen years, more nutritious meals, improved language skills, etc.
Some might wonder just how to get your toddler involved in the family dinner. For me, in each developmental stage, I have adjusted my expectations for The Boy's meal time behavior and his involvement in the preparation/cleanup.
Birth to One Year-- Early on, let's face it, The Boy was not involved. He nursed on demand. I ate holding him or when he was sleeping/playing/etc. However, once we introduced "the sack" and "mush," he joined us at the table more frequently. Obviously, I was not eating ten times a day, so I was not always eating with him, but overall, if I was eating, he was eating. He ate many of the same foods that I was eating in his sack, plus some other finger foods for practice. At this point, he wasn't much of a mover and a shaker compared to when he started walking (around his first birthday), so he was easy to "entertain" at the table if it was a long leisurely dinner.
First "mush" carrots at a friend's backyard barbecue

I WILL get every last drop!
Introduction to "the sack"-- not at family meal time, but we were trying it out! Success!!!
One year to Eighteen Months-- This was the time period that was most challenging for us when it came to family meal times. Kevin was still away for most of this time, so it was me alone, preparing, serving, and cleaning up from meals. The Boy was in to "eating and running," so I had to adjust my expectations for how long I expected him to sit patiently. In spite of his eat and run attitude, I still ate more quickly than he did, so that part was not as much of a problem when it was the two of us, but did become a problem when there were others involved.
Around that time, I "wished" for a Crockodile Creek placemat for The Boy (via Oompa Toys), which my mom purchased. This helped in two areas-- meal preparation and dinner time. The Boy would ask over and over the names of the animals, and I was happy to tell him. When dining with our friends, he would stare and "chatter" for a good amount of time before asking to get down. When it was just the two of us, we would have dinner conversation about the animals.

Around Seventeen or Eighteen months

Eighteen Months to Two Years-- I think this is when family dinner became the most fun. Kevin had returned from Lebanon, and we were able to have full family meals. The conversation was much more exciting. I had an adult to converse with, and The Boy had two parents instead of one to shock with his incredible vocabulary skills. Dinner conversations were spontaneous and could cover just about any topic. We were careful to include The Boy in discussions, asking him specific questions and again using the place mats for inspiration when things dulled down a bit. We worked heavily on please, thank you, excuse me, and other meal time manners. Manners... that's a topic for another post. LOL!
Around this time, I also brought The Boy in to the world of food preparation. He might not be the best stirrer ever born, but he works hard at it. He stirs his own eggs for scrambled eggs, which he can almost do 100% on his own now, adds in various dry ingredients, and hands me things I need to prepare dinner.

the cucumber

We are not always perfect, however. There are times when we sit and watch a sporting event on television while eating dinner, or I leave him out of the meal preparation, but overall, meal time is family time, and I hope to keep it that way!
Is meal time family time in your house? How do you make it work or what prevents it from being family time?

Tasha from Tasha Does Tulsa wanted me to weigh in on family meal times. I am open to suggestions for topics, so feel free to send me one via email or comment. In the mean time, visit Tasha! She's cool. I promise. :)


Rebecca said...

I love this part of parenting! We love family meals. Even when Frank was as infant we asked him at the dinner table about his day and gave him time to "respond." Fun.

Andy Merrett said...

It's great to read how family mealtimes are working out for you. I hope that it continues as he grows up.

In our hectic lives, eating together can sometimes be difficult, but it's definitely worth persevering with.

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