How to engage your kids at mealtime

One of the hardest things to learn how to undo is silence at the dinner table. For some cultures it is also accepted that you eat in silence, or at least the adults might talk but the children are discouraged from joining in. However, one of the easiest ways to ensure better eating and digestion habits are developed, is to encourage positive conversations around a table in the evenings, lunchtime, or even breakfast.

A family who turns off or puts down distractions such as phones, TV, and loud music, and instead focuses on some specific conversation time, will enjoy many benefits:

  • Slower eating improves digestion and enjoyment of the food
  • Children develop good table manners and improved listening skills
  • Everyone gets a turn to speak and be heard, which leads to more togetherness as a family.

Here’s some simple things you can do to engage kids at mealtime.

Make sure you eat together

Sitting at the table and eating together is one of the iron-clad rules that should be practiced by all families. This is one of the first and best tools you can use to create a stable and consistent environment for eating meals mindfully and enhancing family relationships.

It can be easy to sit in front of the TV and relax while eating, but this only encourages mindless eating and no communication. And let’s be honest, after a hard day at the office or running around after the family, all we want to do is relax.

It takes routine and discipline to say no, but you will soon see that the positive benefits of eating as a family far outweigh missing out on a favourite TV show.

Ask for conversation topics

If having conversations at the dinner table is a relatively new concept for your family, you might like to try this as a means of introducing the idea.

Make each person responsible for bringing a new topic for discussion to the table each day. For example, that person might read a snippet out of a book, share an interesting news item or discuss something the teacher was talking about at school. It could be something that starts with: ‘Did you know that…’ or ‘In some countries they do…’

Each person also has to share one thing they learned that day. And it can be anything at all. You can even make this a funny part of the conversation. For example, I learned today that cats really do like to chase mice, but none of them are really called Jerry.

Ask questions

The other part of this is to give everyone a chance to speak.  Each day you may start with going around the table and asking these simple questions of everyone:

“What was the best part of your day? Why?”

In time, these questions will become easy, fun and routine, and you might learn some interesting things about each other and the world in general along the way. Oftentimes you will find the conversation extending well past dinner and on into the evening.

There are also card packs you can buy with ‘conversation starters’ on them. You can draw a card for each evening meal and go from there.

By exploring conversation while eating, you eat slower and more mindfully as you go. An important rule of mealtime conversation is when it’s your turn to speak, you have to put your knife and fork down.

No phones

Sometimes even as parents it can be hard to step away from technology, forget about work or errands for a bit and just enjoy your family’s company. Having a ‘no phone at the dinner table’ rule is a great way to help your kids unplug but making sure that you’re setting the best example is going to be the defining point in engaging your kids.

If they feel like you’re holding yourself accountable and are there to listen 100% they will be more likely to comply and appreciate the time you’re spending together.

Establishing a new routine around mealtimes will help you and your family to redefine a new and healthier relationship with food. Food becomes nourishing, as do the family relationships, which are strengthened through these mealtime connections.

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