Baby sleep practitioner and parental coach
Founder of The Nurtured Child Approach
I wrote this post a while back (2019) for a friend who started her venture in the food business. She kindly asked my view on the importance of the shared meal experience in a child’s memory. I can’t thank her enough for her trust and confidence! She did awaken my passion for writing and gave me the confidence to express myself 🙂 If you are reading this, don’t forget to check her Instagram account @babeldeb
I grew up in a traditional farmhouse with 6 other siblings. My mum did not read any parenting books to raise us. We did not have any specific routine except that we did not watch much TV and we always ate together at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My memories of food and meal times as a child are sitting on my mum’s lap around a big low table (Boho style table they call it nowadays :)) We were a noisy family.. we still are! We speak loudly, we shout, we laugh and sometimes we fight at meal times and we laugh again, and when one of us is running late for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, we would wait until we are all present so we could all eat together. We tell stories, and we make jokes. Our food was not sophisticated. It was mostly shared dishes, couscous, rice, stews, and lots of grilled fish. We would have whatever my dad could provide for us. I did not have a child’s plate, not that I can recall at least. I remember when I was able to sit on my own I ate from a normal plate like everybody else or we would all eat from a huge plate together.
My memories of food as a child are mostly about those shared moments, the time we spent together, playing in the kitchen while my mum prepared the meal, running in the garden to pick some tomatoes for lunch, my grandma sitting outside on the patio sorting parsley and fennel roots…
I remember running in the orchard picking apples for a snack… So much to take for granted.
When I first came to London I noticed how many people eat their lunch on the go. We live in one of the biggest and busiest cities in the World so there is no doubt that we all work hard and long hours and we don’t have even time to sit for lunch sometimes… We have to run and get an easy lunch from the supermarket or the nearest store then we can either pop into the nearest garden or park if we are lucky enough to get a glimpse of sunshine or we just go back to our desks and eat our lunch, alone.
Family meals are becoming a celebration, only on weekends or special occasions. Most working or even non-working adults eat alone. Simply because they are too busy working during the day. Some parents prefer to have dinner together in the evening after their child goes to bed, especially if they have a baby or a toddler. They find it easier and more relaxing. The child has his own routine, eats super well, and sleeps super well on his own, a luxury that all their friends with children will envy them for. All tasks were achieved with success!
Yes, tasks. A child having breakfast, lunch or dinner is a task that every parent/carer wants to achieve and celebrate afterward. We become so focused on the task of eating and finishing the meal that we forget about the experience itself. He or she ate all their lunch! Yes! Well done!!
Some parents resort to distractions in order to achieve the task successfully, toys at the table, books, or screen time. People who struggle would read books, and blogs or consult a food therapist or a behavior therapist to help. Not to confuse this with food aversion of course and any medical food issue. Children who have medical issues do need an intervention or a medical or professional opinion on the matter. We are talking about habits here, about children who would happily eat their lunch at nursery or with a nanny but refuse to eat it with their parents.
This parent is being told what to do from the moment they bring a child into the world. We teach them the importance of routine and independence for their baby. We give them information and lessons on safe sleeping and how to take care of a newborn then how to help them grow and develop healthily, how to feed them, how to dress them, how to talk to them and we give them more resources and links to check at home and go back to when they feel lost. This information is of course valuable and important but aren’t we somehow stripping away their paternal instinct and making them believe that everything related to their child has to be googled or searched in a book or blog?
A parent would sit with their child trying to encourage them to eat a healthy balanced meal that they spent a great deal of time cooking and which they are not sharing with them, nor they are eating their own lunch themselves, yet they are completely lost on why the child has no interest in food.
They try to buy special colorful themed bowls, plates, and utensils, they try to sing, to do a puppet show, they put toys on the table, they bribe sometimes, other times the child is just punished because they didn’t listen and eat their food… So much stress, so much tension around that meal time and so much frustration to complete the “task”.
This “task” is becoming more and more challenging every day, especially now with parents working from home. Either having to juggle the sole care of a toddler and work or have someone helping them, meal times are the hardest for everyone. Nannies and home-based childcarers are mostly experiencing this issue where the child would happily eat with them then suddenly the parent comes into the room to make a coffee or take their own lunch and all of a sudden the child starts crying, wanting his parent. The parent needs to go back to work. This also happens when one of the parents is looking after the child and the other parent comes into the room. But can you blame the parent for being free in their own house and wanting to pop into the kitchen whenever they want to or even to come and see their children when they want to? Of course not. Can you blame the child for not accepting happily that their dad or mum is just casually saying hi to them walking into the kitchen talking on their phone or having to run again for a phone call, without sitting with them or sharing their meal? Of course not. Everyone is wondering what is going wrong. But what is really going wrong? Is us? Is it the way we live today? Is it work? Is it stress? Or are we just so busy and always in a rush that we never have time for a proper family meal time?
But now that most of us are working from home, can we at least try and maybe see if it makes a difference? Let’s try and make time for a family meal at least once a day. If you have a baby or a toddler, a fussy eater and you think it is hard, just try to relax, put away your phone and anything that might distract you or them, and plunge into the experience. Take a proper lunch break and eat with them, share their meal and let them share yours, talk to them about the food, the ingredients and what they remind you of, talk about your childhood and what you liked to eat when you were little, help them make their own memories.