Mealtime can be stressful for families. There may be disagreement over what and how much the kids need to eat and stressful table manner discussions. Sometimes it can be stressful just getting to the meal—planning and cooking while monitoring small children can be a trick of its own.
Take a look at these tips to help destress mealtimes when you have kids. You might be able to implement some or all of them to create a more peaceful time for your family that can even reduce your overall stress levels.
Don’t Be Afraid of Meal Planning
Meal planning is a term that can induce its own stress in some people. After all, it has connotations of sitting down and spending lots of time planning elaborate meals. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Meal planning can be as simple as asking each member of the family what they’d like to have for dinner that week and jotting down five to seven answers on the calendar. Make a quick list of the ingredients you’ll need to make those meals, hit the grocery store, and you’re all set.
You’re allowed to flexible with your meal plan. For example, if you’re supposed to have chicken soup on Tuesday but a work meeting runs late, make something easier that was scheduled for a different day. It’s meant to be more of a guide and reduce the day-of “what’s for dinner” stress than an iron-clad plan that can’t be deviated from.
Get the Kids Involved in Cooking
Kids often participate and eat more at the dinner table when they’ve had a hand in cooking the meal. Not only that, but it allows you to teach them valuable cooking skills that they can use to stay healthy their whole lives.
As your child gets older, you may even wish to give him the responsibility of cooking one night a week. Let him choose the meal, add ingredients to the grocery list, and only intervene if he asks for help. Kids love having that kind of trust and responsibility, and you’ll be able to watch your child’s confidence bloom.
Use a Slow Cooker or Instant Pot to Help
A slow cooker that can be filled with a healthy meal before work and turned on low all day can drastically reduce dinnertime stress. Alternatively, an electric pressure cooker that can cook things faster once you get home might be the ticket on certain days. Remember, a pressure cooker needs time to come to pressure, so not all recipes will necessarily be faster to cook in one. However, while the food is cooking in an electric pressure cooker, you don’t need to monitor it like you do food cooking on the stove so you can spend that time doing other things like playing with the kids or getting a chore knocked off your evening to-do list. All of that can reduce stress.
Don’t Bicker About Eating
During mealtimes, refrain from arguing with your child about what or how much he needs to eat. Just work on providing a variety of healthy foods and let him decide which and how much to partake in. Forcing kids to eat a certain amount can lead to unhealthy eating patterns later in life. Plus, some kids will dig in their heels and refuse to eat something just because there is a conflict with a parent about it. Relax and enjoy your meal without worrying about what or how much your child eats.
Ban Screens of All Kinds During Dinner—For Everyone
Having the TV on during a meal or allowing people at the table to look at cell phones can cause a real disconnection between members of the family, and that is stressful. Make a family rule that no one uses a screen of any kind for the hour or two surrounding a meal time.
Model the Behavior You Want to See
Don’t worry too much about correcting your child’s table manners at every moment during a meal. Instead, work on good communication skills like listening when someone else is speaking. Be sure to model good table manners yourself—your child will learn better from that than from being continuously corrected while trying to eat. Refraining from doing this will lower the stress surrounding mealtimes for both you and your child.
Avoid Touchy Subjects
Don’t use mealtimes to give lectures about grades, misbehaviors, or to talk about anything that a member of the family is touchy about. Focus on positive family interaction during meals and leave unpleasant conversations for another time.
Being grateful for what you have, identifying those things routinely, and teaching your child the same practice can all decrease stress both at mealtime and in general. You might choose to have a family prayer focusing on thankfulness or have each member of the family name a thing or two that happened that day for which they are grateful. Remember to acknowledge the food you have and teach your child to focus on it mindfully while eating because that helps develop good eating habits for life.