Family Dinnertime — How to Incorporate Your Toddler

Are you looking for ways to incorporate your little one into family life? Maybe you’re hoping to develop their social skills, encourage healthy relationships with food, or help them develop high self-esteem. Luckily, your solution could be as simple as adding a family dinnertime to your daily routine. Dinners give your child a voice at the table and demonstrate the importance of open conversation between loved ones. Research shows that structured family meals can help your child develop healthy eating habits, in addition to improving their confidence and interpersonal relationships.

Of course, enjoying a calm meal with a toddler is easier said than done. Children are often little bundles of energy at the toddler stage, so encouraging them to sit down and eat their greens may be challenging. As such, we’ve put together a quick guide to making your meals as enjoyable and drama-free as possible.

First things first: What are the benefits of family dinnertime? 

There are heaps of social and developmental benefits associated with family dinnertime. Despite seeming unrelated at first glance, family dinners can:

  1. Improve literacy skills
    Studies have demonstrated that eating dinner as a family can build children’s vocabularies and make them better readers. Toddlers are constantly learning, and dynamic table talk is a fantastic way to expose them to unfamiliar phrases and words.
  2. Boost mental health
    Eating family dinners from a young age is associated with improved mental health, better self-esteem, and lower rates of anxiety and substance abuse in later life.
  3. Help everyone bond
    Eating together is one of the best ways to ensure family members stay connected and unplug from technology for a while. Sharing stories and opinions is a fabulous way to build your child’s social skills and encourage empathy.
  4. Improve family health
    Eating freshly prepared meals with loved ones helps children appreciate the importance of healthy eating and develop positive habits that will benefit them later in life.

How to enjoy a stress-free dinnertime

So, dinnertime is highly beneficial for your toddler — but how can you put theory into practice? Here are our top tips:

1. Get into batch cooking

We know that family life can be hectic, so finding the time to make nutritious meals every night can be tricky to say the least! One of the easiest ways to get around this problem is to cook large batches of freezer-friendly meals. In doing so, you can throw together a delicious meal in minutes whenever you’re pressed for time. Lasagne, casseroles, and burritos are perfect for the freezer, though you can find many more ideas here. Bread doughs also hold up well in the freezer, should you decide on a spontaneous pizza night, and most vegetables can be prepped multiple days in advance. And remember — take-out is totally fine as an occasional treat!

2. Invest in a seat for your toddler

Sitting at the “grownup table” marks an exciting milestone for many young children. However, your toddler is likely too short to reach the dinner table in a standard dining chair. Luckily, booster seats can easily solve this problem.

Hiccapop’s super comfortable ErgoBoost Toddler Booster Seat turns any chair into a protective high chair. Lightweight, secure, and suitable for children between the ages of six months and three years, you can use it at home or on the go – perfect for restaurants or vacations.

3. Set a few dinnertime rules

While dinner doesn’t need to be a highly regimented affair, setting a few mealtime rules can help prevent tantrums and ensure everyone enjoys their food. Basic rules could include:

  • Saying “please” and “thank you”
  • No shouting or screaming during dinner
  • No toys at the dinner table (a rule you can extend to adults and their phones!)
  • No throwing food
  • No talking over others
  • No speaking with your mouth full

Naturally, it may take some time for your child to get used to the rules, which you can modify as they grow older. Once your little one is old enough to carry plates, for example, you can enlist their help with clearing the table!

4. Encourage everyone to talk

Of course, your toddler can’t be expected to keep up with conversations about current events or the latest weather forecast. While some adult conversation is fine, it can be valuable to include your toddler and encourage them to speak up. Young children love to hear funny anecdotes involving their older siblings, stories about their parent’s childhood years, or about how their grandparents met. You could even play a simple guessing game or do a quiz after everyone’s finished eating.

5. Don’t turn dinnertime into a battle of wills

Sometimes, toddlers can be stubborn about how much food they’re willing to eat. While this may feel stressful, it’s important not to get too worked up. Be gentle and remind them of the benefits of eating a full meal, such as avoiding hunger pangs later in the day. Additionally, offering your child a choice between two healthy foods can encourage them to eat while still giving them some control over their meal. If you’re struggling to get your toddler to eat much at all, it’s worth seeking help from a friendly pediatrician or behavioral professional.

6. Turn off your tech

You can’t expect the conversation to flow if televisions, tablets, or phones are distracting you and your family members. While it may feel strange and disarming to put your phone in a drawer for half an hour or so, the benefits could be huge!

7. Can’t make dinner? Have family breakfast

If your schedule doesn’t allow for family dinners, consider substituting them with family breakfasts. As long as you’re getting together multiple times a week, it doesn’t matter when you spend your quality time.

Enjoy your first family dinner today!

Now that your child is a toddler, it’s time to include them in family rituals like mealtimes. To get started, remember to plan your menu, arrange the table, and invest in a booster seat to ensure your little one feels safe and included. To find out more about hiccapop’s ErgoBoost Toddler Booster Seat or other dinnertime accessories, don’t hesitate to reach out today!

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