When it comes to your childrens’ evening meal, it may be time to go against traditional advice and not actually eat together as a family.
One of the reasons I started my website way back in 2014 was because I didn’t feel like a lot of the traditional advice on fussy eating was working for me. This is in no way intended to be critical of advice that other people give, it’s simply my own take on what can be a very stressful issue within a lot of families.
When you research tips for fussy eating, one piece of advice that seems to crop up a lot is eating together as a family. I completely appreciate that there are lots of benefits of kids eating together with adults, both in terms of modelling good food behaviour and also bonding time. But, and this is a big BUT… I also feel that forcing children to wait to eat their biggest meal of the day late in the evening can actually be doing more harm that good.
Over the past year I’ve been testing out a new way of eating for my kids that consists firstly of front-loading their food and secondly eating their evening meal earlier.
1. Front-Loading Food
We’re always told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and I think this is especially true when it comes to children. It’s important to remember that when a child eats breakfast they probably have not eaten anything for at least 13 hours, maybe more. A good and filling breakfast is essential to refuel their bodies and set them up for the day.
School-age children may not eat again until lunchtime, so it’s important to get as much quality food into them as possible at breakfast, treating it like a big meal.
You can see lots of my healthy breakfast ideas here: https://www.myfussyeater.com/category/breakfast/
Don’t be afraid of adding a portion of veggies to your child’s breakfast. I often cut up some raw carrots and add them to my children’s breakfast plate. And don’t forget that beans count towards a portion of fruit and veg a day too! Perfect for breakfast!
Lunch is another chance to re-fuel and set children up for the second half of their day. I treat lunch as the second big meal of the day, again using the opportunity to get as much filling food into them.
If your kids have had two good meals during the day then it means that when it comes to dinner the pressure is off to some extent. If you know that your children have had a good balance of food, containing some carbs, protein and fats and a few portions of fruit and veg already, then it’s less likely that dinner time will become a battle ground.
You can then treat dinner time as a more “snacky” style meal, giving them a selection of different foods rather than one big meal. I serve this type of dinner a couple of times a week to my kids and they love it!
On other days I keep evening meals to simple dinners that I know they love – Spag Bol, Easy Pasta Sauces, Tortilla Pizzas and Curries. You can see all my dinner recipes here: https://www.myfussyeater.com/category/main-meals/
2. Earlier Dinner Time
Aswell as front-loading my children’s food, I also started trialling an earlier dinner time during the week. Traditionally, many families eat dinner together at about 6pm but for young children this can simply be way too late. I liken it to us adults eating a big meal at 10pm every night. It’s fine once in a while but not daily!
I have found that between 4 and 5pm is the optimum time for my kids to eat during the week. By 5pm most evenings young children are tired and should be winding down for the day. Dinner at this time can become a massive battle as emotions run high and kids have little patience for trying new foods. By moving their evening meal forward an hour or so you may be able to avoid some of the tiredness-related meltdowns and chaos over dinner.
Avoid Cooking Twice
But feeding the kids earlier doesn’t have to mean you cook dinner twice. The key to avoid adding extra work to your life is to either cook dinner early (I can do this because I work from home) and then reheat your own portion to have later.
Or else cook for yourself late in the evening and serve those leftovers reheated to the kids the next day. This may work better if you work outside the home and don’t get back to cook dinner early.
It’s important to remember that front-loading your children’s food and feeding them earlier doesn’t mean the end of family dinners. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are more relaxed in our house. We eat several breakfasts, lunches and dinners together and I always take some time to cook something with the kids too. It’s all about balance and changing up the rules to work for your family.
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If you try out this way of feeding your kids, or you already do something similar then please do let me know your thoughts in the comments below.