We've always eaten our main meal of the day together with our young children. It does mean that we eat quite early, usually around 6pm, but then after bath and bedtime my husband and I can spend the evening together without having to worry about cooking another meal. Obviously this isn't always practical if you arrive home later from work, but where possible it's always nice to eat together.
Toddlers don't always have the best table manners though and sometimes a family meal with young children can be a bit of a stressful time. The problem that we struggle with is that my children are quite fussy eaters, and also don't eat very much. They finish their dinner way before we do, and then become impatient while they wait for us to finish.
I do think it's important for them to get used to sitting at the table with us though, and these are some of the ways that we've tried to encourage it.
When babies are first weaning then a highchair works well, but as soon as they are sitting confidently a booster seat can work much better. You can attach it to one of your chairs, and it means that the child can sit much closer to the table and may even be able to fit their legs underneath it and eat directly from the table. This makes them really feel a part of the family. These seats are usually easier to keep clean as well, and some even come with built in toys that the toddler can play with while they wait for the food to be prepared!
My children have never really taken to spoon feeding and have much preferred to feed themselves. This is much easier, as you can just leave them to get on with it at meal times, but it does make for quite a bit of mess. We use large mats on the table that can be washed up after the meal, and bibs with long sleeves that cover them almost entirely. For very little ones I have also put an old table cloth on the floor under their seat that can be shaken out after use.
You can buy some lovely sets of cutlery for toddlers. When they are younger look for ones with easy to hold moulded handles, then you can progress onto ones that are more like miniature versions of adult cutlery. It's a good idea to have separate sets for each child to avoid arguments!
We've tended to use plastic plates, probably for longer than really necessary, but it does save breakages. We have also learned to keep any paper or electronic items well away from drinking cups, and to have kitchen roll very close by for the inevitable spillages!
Do you have any other tips to share on eating as a family with toddlers? I'd love to hear them!
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