The Power of the Family Dinner

The Power of the Family Dinner Table

Roslyn Fisher has over 15 years’ experience as a Registered Nutritional Consulting Practitioner. Through her business, Highway to Health, she supports families in creating healthy relationships with food and each other around the dinner table. She’s also a mother of four, so knows something about the struggles parents can face in feeding families. I spoke to Roslyn about her recent book, The Power of the Table.

Q: What are some of the biggest struggles when it comes to food and children?

A: When it comes to struggles, it’s more the parents—and I know parents hate to hear this. Parents are tired, they work hard, and when they think about dinner, they don’t want to fight. So, they tend to cater to the child’s pallet. Children are very good at telling you what they don’t like – even before you cook it.

There’s two sides of the coin—sometimes there’s children who have anxiety and the food plays into that. So if they have anxiety and they’re presented with food, the food gives them more anxiety. And now they have to try something new or eat something unfamiliar.

Related: A New Way of Thinking About Picky Eating

Parents have tried feeding their kids using bribes, rewards and negotiations—and it works sometimes. Some parents even pay their children to eat.

One parents came to me and said, “I put $20 on the table for my son to eat a bowl of cereal. So I say eat this cereal and you’ll get the twenty bucks.” I hear that often.

Q: What are some techniques you suggest to break away from those bribes and all that negotiation?

A: The idea is for families to eat the same thing, at the dinner table, at the same time. So, mom is not getting up and down, or somebody has already finished and the TV is on. All devices are turned off.

When foods is being presented at the table, the parents can’t care if the child eats or don’t eat. You present the food to them and you don’t even talk about it. Make the conversation very light around the table—a funny story, or tell a joke. Nothing is about school or marks–anything negative adds anxiety around the table.

At first what happens is the parents get anxious because they know the child isn’t going to eat broccoli or the fish that’s in front of them. The idea is not to talk about it. Kids need about nine exposures to the same thing in exact the same way for them to eat it.

Another tool is to feed children very small amounts of the food instead of overloading their plate. The initial exposure to broccoli might be to touch it with a fork and move it around. The next exposure might be they put it to their lips, then put it down. The second you say, “You need to eat another bite, or no dessert,” you’re starting those bribe negotiations. In our house, if you don’t eat your dinner, the only thing that’s served is fruit. And nothing else.

Q: What happens when you’ve got a hungry child?

A: That’s something children will do. They’ll say, “I’m starving and you can’t put me to bed.” You can re-serve the same meal or there’s fruit. So if there’s pineapple in the house, I say, “You eat as much pineapple as you want.” Clean out your cupboards of cookies and anything like that—especially if there’s a picky eater in the house, so there’s no treats or cookies in the house.

Q: Your book is called The Power of the Table. Why is the dinner table so important?

A: Once you remove all distractions, the table is the place where everyone has to sit, face each other and be together. It’s the only place that happens. The table is supposed to be a really positive place where children feel comfortable.

The power of the table has nothing to do with food. It has more to do with connection—families are losing that connection because they’re focusing too much on food. It doesn’t matter if you’re serving potato chips and hot dogs for dinner, that’s completely fine. As long as everyone is eating the same thing and they are forming connections around the table.

Q: A lot of families are busy—you have both parents working, you have a lot of after school evening activities. How do you deal with that when it comes to family meals?

A: Family meals don’t have to be the whole family together. Maybe parents are out working and the babysitter is there, or one parent is there. There has to be some sort of unity where somebody’s sitting with that child. You still want keep them company and keep that family unit.

Q: I’m interested in is the ideal of letting children make their own choices and listen to their own bodies when it comes to food, which must feel a little scary to some parents. What the idea is behind this?

A: The idea is we all have the mechanism in our bodies to tell us when we’re hungry and we’re full. And where that ends is when parents decide their child has had enough. There’s always days where we’re starving and there are other days when we’re not as hungry. Kids’ bodies are growing and if we limit food at that time, it can slow down their metabolism.

So when they are hungry and they call for more food, provide it. Children start to get wonky when parents tell them when they can or can’t eat.

Q: “The Power of the Table” talks about the whole household eating exactly the same meal—whether it is fish or hotdogs. What does it do for families when they all eat exactly the same meal?

A: This doesn’t break food into different hierarchies, making something back for you and something good. It’s good for kids to know something has more nutrients than sour key candies, but you also need your children to know if hotdogs are good enough for them, then hotdogs are good enough for you.

When you start putting a menu together, start with dinner items your family typically likes. Maybe this kid really likes hot dogs and the other really likes spaghetti, so those are two meals on your menu. Next week the pasta might have vegetables in it, or the pasta might be whole wheat. You start to elaborate on your meals to make them more attractive and healthy.

So, you might be starting at hotdogs and chicken fingers to get children to start eating around the table—and that’s okay.

Q: What are some go-to healthy snacks in your home?

A: Fruit, apple sauce, veggies, popcorn, homemade granola bars, hummus, cottage cheese, yoghurt, raisins, rice cakes with nut butter, apple slices with peanut butter, and nuts and seeds are good.

Related: Meal Planning—How to Maximize Time Together at the Table

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Amanda Lee

About Amanda Lee

Amanda Lee works in communications by day and is a freelance writer by night. She has written about parenting, travel and life for a variety of outlets, including the Toronto Star, Today’s Parent, Flight Centre, Urban Adventures and Vitamin Daily. She thinks The Cat Who Stamped His Feet stands the test of time as great literature and won’t throw a birthday party for her kids without fairy bread. You can follow Amanda on Twitter or read more of her writing here. View all posts by

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