With busier lives and the growth of technological distractions comes less time for loved ones.  Mealtimes, once a special time to chat and discuss your day with your family, are steadily on the decline and now also impacted by our devices. New research by leading Scandinavian nursery brand Stokke, committed to family bonding, sought to reveal how British families really spend their time, if any, at the dinner table.

While 86% of parents believe it’s important to eat dinner as a family, less than half actually eat together every night. Almost a quarter spend their mealtimes in front of the TV, while 16% spend theirs at separate tables. Even when families are together, our technological devices are a massive distraction, with over two thirds of parents turning to their phones and tablets to entertain their kids while they eat. Over two thirds of parents also confessed to spending too much time focusing on their phones rather than their child.

Charlotte Stirling-Reed, a specialist in baby and children nutrition for Stokke, is working to break this cycle and bring back quality family time by giving advice on how parents and children can come together for dinner. Charlotte believes it’s important we make the most of family mealtimes, as this is when our children pick up ideas about what to eat and how to eat. To help families enjoy happy and healthy mealtimes, Charlotte has come up with some top tips we can try at home.

Eat together, whenever possible

Simple but often challenging, aiming to sit and eat together whenever possible is the first step to healthy, happy mealtimes! With just half of families typically enjoying meals together at the dinner table, this first tip is an essential one! Charlotte assures that even if it’s just you and your baby or child, having you being a part of their mealtime makes a huge difference to how they enjoy their food and make dinner part of a routine.

Get your children involved

Charlotte recommends surrounding your baby with the food everyone else is tucking in to as children learn the social skills of eating and what foods they enjoy by copying others! If your children are older, get them involved in prepping and shopping for ingredients, or even choosing what to have for dinner!

Give them choice

Charlotte advises that offering your little one’s food choices between A and B gives them some autonomy and independence. An example of this might be “do you want potato or pasta today?”. Really, you still have control over what’s offered, but this allows your children to feel their opinions are valued while also becoming involved in mealtimes!

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Establish a routine

Aiming to establish a “pre-eating” routine can help your children feel excited about mealtimes. Charlotte suggests activities like clearing away toys, laying the table or playing a quick game to set the tone for dinner and get everyone together and talking! With 82% of parents admitting to keeping their phones on the table at all times during meals, and over two thirds giving their child devices, this could be a fun and effective way to keep the dinner table phone-free.

Try and make dinner distraction free!

Toys, TV, phones and tablets can take away from the idea that mealtimes and our food are really important and distract our children from socially interacting with family members. With over two thirds of surveyed parents confessing to giving their child devices at the table, this is a really important tip! Charlotte advises that if we want our babies and children to grow up loving food, we need to show them that the food we prepare is worth lots of attention and time!

Leave out the rules (and the pressure)!

Charlotte warns it’s important not to make mealtimes too pressurised or strict as it can become unenjoyable for your kids and put them off! Clearing your plate, eating all your vegetables first or sitting down until everyone has finished eating are examples of dinner-time rules that can make eating together unrelaxing and unenjoyable for your kids – we really want them to enjoy their food think of mealtimes as a fun experience!

Vary your meals!

Charlotte highlights that one of the biggest reasons she sees for children going off their food is boredom! While it can be easy to offer the same foods each week, offering a wide variety instead means your children learn about new tastes, flavours and nutrients, but also don’t get bored of always eating the same meals. Because so many of us lead busy lives Charlotte advises make bulk meals at the weekends, when you have more time on your hands, to use during the weekdays.

Stokke, whose ethos is to nurture family bonding, having your baby closer to you and the importance of eye contact, launched the hugely popular and iconic Tripp Trapp highchair, which aims to encourage families to sit together, in 1972. Since then, The Tripp Trapp, which grows with your child as they get older and brings them closer to the table, has been sold more than 10 million times worldwide. Stine Brogaard from Stokke, like Charlotte, believes that “eating together as a family is so important and however tempting it might be to have a phone or tablet there to entertain your child, it’s important for parents to take the time to talk to their little one, educate them on their food and chat at this special time of the day”.

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