GUEST BLOG - “10 Handy Habits for Making Family Mealtimes Easier” by Registered Nutritionist Emily Longbottom
Five Minute Mum: “Now, as we all know, just because you happen to be nailing one aspect of parenting for once (my toy rotation system is slick as, thanks for asking!) it certainly doesn’t mean that your competence applies to it all. In fact, I am a firm believer that we all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to looking after our kids, yet for some insane reason we put pressure on ourselves to excel at every single one of them. Not. Possible.
For me, although I like to think I’m doing alright in the entertainment portion of my lengthy ‘mother’ job description, there are other bits I am truly crap at and I will happily hold my hands up in acknowledgement. One of those is mealtimes. I adore food. In fact, I would probably consider myself on the cusp of a foodie, as I love random little cafes with delicious fried things as well as fancy Michelin posh nosh and everything in between. So when it first came to weaning Ewan I was genuinely excited. What was he going to like?
The answer was NOTHING. The only thing he liked to do with the food I so lovingly prepared for him was redecorate my dining room wall. Sweet potato? Nope. Pea puree, actually hand-sieved smooth? Get away. Toast? Ok for one day, horrified the next. I was aghast. WHY DOESN’T HE LIKE FOOD? “Food is amazing and actually you need it to LIVE you tiny maniac”, I despaired.
This continued until one day I cried to my cousin down the phone and she sent me a book. I forget what the book was called but it doesn’t matter because the blog below by Emily, a mum, nutritionist and early years teacher, has ALL of the good advice it gave me and more. The key thing that I took from it were these six words - “you don’t have to eat it” which Emily also explains below.
I still say this to my kids now. We are by no means perfect at mealtimes, but we are better. I often still curse myself that we don’t have more meals together, but finding foods we all enjoy is really hard and it makes me sad when it’s rejected over and over. 90% of the time, food I’ve prepared is complained about by one or both of my kids. And crucially I know I am still making mistakes when it comes to how I should go about it. Which is why Emily is such a godsend and why this blog is perfect for me, and perhaps you too, if you have the same struggles. So I will pass you over to the expert, because as you can see, I am certainly not it and I am so grateful there is someone else who is…
10 HANDY HABITS FOR MAKING FAMILY MEALTIMES EASIER
BY EMILY LONGBOTTOM
Hi, I’m Emily; Registered Nutritionist, early years teacher and mum of 2.
I started my nutrition career 19 years ago in the food industry after completing my nutrition degree. During my years as a teacher I found I loved teaching children about food as part of the curriculum and ran a food club for nursery age children which was so much fun!
I love sharing my thoughts on Eating Well in Childhood, on my website and Instagram. I feel relaxed and confident in what to do and how to talk about food in children’s earshot but I know this is such a tricky area for so many and it’s really hard to know what to do for the best.
My main interest since becoming a mum is family nutrition and how we can all have less stressful mealtimes following the same type of principles that Daisy talks about. In the same way as the Five Minute Mum golden rule (that we can’t make the children play with a particular activity) with food all we can do is offer a really great mix of foods and then that’s our job done. We don’t have to ‘get’ the children to eat it! Here are my top ten tips…
1. “You don’t have to eat it.”
Want less battles at mealtimes? Decide on what the meal is, make sure there’s 1 or 2 foods they usually like and then relax and enjoy the food. Our job is done! We’ve served the dinner and it’s up to the children if they eat it or not.
2. Put it all on the table
Buffet style or ‘family style serving’ can help to reduce stress at mealtimes. Everyone serves themselves what they want from the foods in bowls. Children learn to eat what their parents enjoy, over time. If they see you serving yourself and enjoying your meal, they will learn to as well.
3. “The kitchen is closed.”
A great way to reduce the pestering for snacks is to have some structure around meal and snack time. For children 3 meals a day and 1-2 snacks can work well and allow children to build up an appetite for meals. Hangry kids pre dinner? Set out some chopped veg sticks and a little pot of dip while you’re cooking.
4. Eat together as much as possible
When we can stress less about exactly what they are eating from the food we’ve chosen and set out, we can enjoy our children’s company at mealtimes. We can talk about other things, our day or plans for the weekend. I rarely talk about the food and I never comment on what my children are eating (or not eating!). It’s also worth remembering that enjoying eating together doesn’t have to only be when you’ve spent hours cooking from scratch – a carpet picnic or freezer pizza with salad still count!
5. Balance snacks
Add different food groups at snack time to make them into ‘mini meals’ which are more filling and nutritious. Include plain dairy, cut up veggies, fruit, small cubes of cheese, bean or cream cheese dips, mini sandwiches, pitta fingers – loads of options to mix and match that all make great additions. I have a snack ebook which will coming to the website very soon filled with lots of snack ideas.
6. Pick nutritious foods that you enjoy
Try doing some research into nutritious foods to offer children – NHS website ‘What to feed young children’ is a great place to start. Focus on those foods that you enjoy eating and serve them regularly when eating with your children. We are great role models but it has to be genuine – children will always be able to work it out if we are telling them to eat something but not eating it ourselves!
7. Play games about vegetables – away from the dinner table
We have research to show that children are more likely to try foods they are familiar with. Just seeing pictures or e-books of what different vegetables look like and how they are grown may help children to try them.
8. Cut corners with freezer and store cupboard basics
Packs of pre-cut freezer veg are a great time saver, or just chop your own to freeze for another time. Adding in extra chopped vegetables to recipes can be a great way to get the portions up, as well as always offering vegetables on the side too. Tins or pouches of pulses and lentils are so easy to chuck into many dishes, making meat go further and adding extra nutrients. Tinned fish (mash the bones) is an easy win for lunches and dinners too.
9. “Be considerate, don’t cater.”
When deciding what’s for dinner, we can be considerate by including 1 or 2 foods that are usually liked but we avoid catering to a child or making them a separate meal. When they come into the kitchen for a chat, offer them a job such as washing veg of chopping mushrooms to involve them in what you’ve chosen for dinner but avoid the pressure to eat.
10. Relax and enjoy
Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to more relaxing mealtimes. If mealtimes are causing you anxiety, do seek advice from a Children’s Registered Nutritionist or Paediatric Dietitian. Or if you think there might be sensory issues around food Vicky Robinson, a previous expert featured on fiveminutemum.com is a great source of information on @sensory.occupational.therapist
Emily is a Registered Nutritionist (R.Nutr.). This means she’s done a degree in nutrition which is recognised by the NHS. Being a Registered Nutritionist with the Association for Nutrition https://www.associationfornutrition.org/ means working to a strict code of ethics and guidelines and only working with the recognised evidence base.
You can find Emily on Instagram @emilycaroline_nutrition or on her website EmilyCarolineNutrition.co.uk