As a busy mom, you worry about your children's health, social adjustment and academic success but there's an easy way to improve these things with one simple act. Eating with your children boosts their performances in the classroom, promotes healthy development and improves their nutrition, according to researchers Martha Marino and Sue Butkus at Washington State University.
Before you sit down to feed your children, you need to create a healthy menu that even the pickiest eaters will enjoy. Follow the USDA's dietary guidelines by offering meals rich in fruits and vegetables -- presented in a way that will appeal to kids. For example, a kid who doesn't like fruit might enjoy fruit mixed into a smoothie with yogurt and orange juice. Menu plan daily, weekly or monthly; menu planning helps you avoid that last-minute fast-food run. If your refrigerator and pantry are stocked for a healthy meal, you're more likely to cook it.
Have a sit-down meal with your kids to add to the structure of dinner. Don't let kids grab their plates and head to their bedrooms or the family room to watch TV while they dine. Instead, assign your children a spot at the dinner table, and have them enjoy their meals there. Set the table before the kids get home from school, or have them help in this process. Sitting together for dinner benefits every family member, as it promotes conversation and interaction. Ask each child about her day, and give everyone at the table an opportunity to talk during meal time.
Prepare dinner whenever it best fits your schedule. If you work outside the home, then tossing dinner in the slow cooker in the morning and coming home to a fully cooked meal might be best. If you stay at home with the kids, you might make lunch the main meal of the day to avoid making a large meal in the late afternoon when the kids might be more impatient. Enlist your kids to help in the dinner preparation process -- they can help rinse vegetables, mix the spaghetti sauce as it simmers or roll out the pizza dough.
Serve each child her plate -- if you let young children make their own plates, they might not get a balanced meal. Be realistic about portions. If your little one hates veggies, a plate full of broccoli isn't going to go over well. But if you discreetly mix some carrots and peas into the pasta, or complement their flavor with a creamy dressing, she might get her serving of vegetables without even knowing it. Encourage children to clean their plates, but don't force feed them, either. Take baby steps with picky eaters or you'll deter them from trying new foods.
Ask your children to remain at the table until every family member is finished. This extends the quality meal time and doesn't make slower or pickier eaters feel isolated. If your kids are old enough to help clean up, ask them to do just that. Instill the good habit of bringing dishes to the sink early on. Alternate tasks -- one week, your daughter can wipe down the table after a meal, and your son can load the dishwasher, and then they can switch.
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