Growing up our dining room table wasn’t used. It was an extension of the shop that my parents owned. Often covered in newspapers, magazines or stock that needed to go out into the shop. I think I just about managed to eat breakfast on it most mornings. But that was it. And I can only remember eating together as a family around it at Christmas. Breakfast would often be eaten alone, tea time was spent in the living room around the TV. Or in my bedroom. Even when I spent mealtimes in the living room, my meals were often at different times to my parents once I was in my teens.
Teatime spent in front of the TV
This carried on well into my 20s. As a student I barely ate at the table. Usually eating in my room when I was in the university halls. Then eating around the TV in the front room in my house share. We didn’t have room for a table there, so there wasn’t any option! When me and T moved in together the year I graduated, our first flat was furnished, so it had a table. Which we used it as a dumping ground. After that we never bothered to buy one. It was always something we talked about. But never something we got round to doing.
Mealtimes as a family
L used to come every weekend and even then we spent mealtimes in front of the TV. Once he got to about 14 he’d eat in his room too. So we never really did the whole eating together as a family thing before Spike came along and it was the three of us. When Spike did arrive, she obviously spent the first 6 months attached to me so eating on the sofa was easier as I could lay her next to me. Once she started weaning we used her high chair in the living room. This was put next to the sofa. When she was a little older we used a bumboo chair.
Watching TV while eating
This is such bad practise, I know that now. Eating in front of the TV, especially at such a young age, is not recommended. Not only do you have the risk of overeating because you are not thinking about eating, you also stop communicating.Plus that was our only TV time and we’d watch stuff we probably shouldn’t have with her around. Nothing too bad, but episodes of How I met your Mother etc. She just played with her food a lot and was allowed to happily sit there doing that.
Once she got a bit older and big enough not to need a highchair anymore we got her a little table and chairs which she sat on to eat. She was usually faced away from the TV and ate or played with her food. However because we still had the TV on we weren’t really paying attention. We started to notice this a lot more as she got to around 3. We stopped putting the TV on and instead listened to music. However, we still sat on the sofa. Often we’d check our phones and we weren’t in the zone of concentrating on each other or our food.
We started thinking about moving house just over a year ago. High on my wish list was a house with enough space for a dining room table, away from the TV. I didn’t quite get it. Instead I got an open plan tiny living room and kitchen. But it has a breakfast bar, big enough for the 3 of us (4 when L is back from Uni though we need another chair for that!). As soon as we moved we decided to make the final changes to our evening meal routine. We agreed that there would be no screens at all at meal times. There is music on but from the home pod which obviously doesn’t have a screen. We put our phones away and actually chat while eating together as a family.
The downsides we’ve discovered
We’ve noticed that it takes Spike forever to eat. This is probably because she used to have whole TV shows to eat. We eat our tea in around 10 minutes, she can easily still be picking at hers for half an hour. The most I’ve seen her sit and eat for is actually an hour. Spike is also easily distracted at meal times. Again probably our fault for letting her play and things at the table when she was younger. But moving things away from the table and having a no toy policy at the table has helped this.
However, I think changing the way we eat when she’s younger, she was 4 when we started making these changes, means that there is time to develop better habits.
The positives of sitting at the table
During the normal days of work and school, eating together at the table is the most time we spend as a family. We found that this is the time we hear about things that are happening in Spike’s life. Those that we wouldn’t hear about otherwise. The games she’s playing at school. Friends she’s made. Things she’s heard about and whats to know more about. Currently, with T working all day upstairs, its time that he gets to join in with our conversations. Lockdown made it harder because I am spending every hour with her during the day. As we don’t have as many ‘new’ topics to talk about during lockdown we’ve started talking about the things that have made us happy that day. Also, things we are grateful for and many of our post lockdown wishes stem from meal time conversations.
Still the source of arguments
Spike is a ridiculously fussy eater and will take forever if she doesn’t want to eat her food. She will argue point blank if there is the slightest crispy bit on anything. Deeming it burnt from the second sees it. She picks the ends off chips because they are crispy… even when they aren’t. She decides she doesn’t like something and would rather starve than eat it even if its something she’s eaten a hundred times before. So there are still plenty of non-peaceful times at our dinner table.
Eating at the table
The healthcare professionals will tell you that eating together at the table, away from the TV, increases metabolism and stops obesity. This might be true, it’s not something I’ve noticed. However I can definitely agree that it stops us from being as distracted. It allows us to enjoy our meals more and wind down after a day at work or school. And its helped us really start to listen to one another. All of which have to be good things right? Now to stop her from being so fussy… any tips on that one?