Importance of Mealtimes

Many of the children who come into foster care have never had regular mealtimes, sat at a dining table, or know how to use cutlery. As foster carers we appreciate mealtimes are important, but why?
  • The child’s food and fluid intake can be more easily monitored by the carer to ensure the child is eating a healthy diet which is sufficient for their needs but not excessive. It will be obvious what the child has eaten by what remains on the plate.
  • Family meals encourage family members to bond with each other and enjoy each others company.
  • Children can learn table manners and how to use cutlery, usually by imitating their carers and other family members. Table manners and knowing how to use cutlery is important in adult life.
  • Children can sit upright at a table (rather than slouching on a sofa), which is good for digestion.

So what is a pattern of good mealtimes?

  • Have at least one family meal together every day which includes all family members. For practical reasons this is often the evening meal.
  • Establish a routine of good hygiene, with the children washing their hands before the meal and changing out of any very dirty clothes, for example, if they have just come in from the garden caked in mud.
  • Call the family for dinner a couple of minutes before the food is ready so they arrive at the table just before you serve the meal.
  • As far as is practical include children in the preparation of the meal and laying the table. Children love to help and even young children can be taught to lay a place at a table.
  • Switch off the television during mealtimes so the focus is on the meal, the people and eating, not on the television screen. Likewise, books, magazines, and hand held game consoles should be left away from the table.
  • Provide nutritious food that is simple, varied and appealing to children. While an adult might relish stilton and broccoli soup, followed by glazed duck breast with port and caramelize orange sauce most children will not.
  • Serve the same food to all family members unless a child has special dietary needs.
  • Keep the talk at the table light and positive, where all family members have a chance to share their news as well as eating. It is not a place for siblings to continue a disagreement or to discipline a child.
  • As far as possible have meals at the same time each day. This will ensure the children are eating and drinking regularly, essential to maintain energy levels and concentration.
  • Start straight away or as soon as an infant can comfortably sit upright at the table in a high chair, between four and six moths of age. It is recognized that if good eating habits are established early they continue into adulthood.

One of the first things I do when a child arrives is to establish a routine which includes regular bath and bed times, and family meals taken at the table. A routine is safe, secure, and reliable where all family members know what is expected, so too with mealtimes. Not only will this encourage the child to eat in a calm and enjoyable manner but family mealtimes are also a sociable event, where family members can meet and talk amicably in a friendly and supportive atmosphere.

Cathy x (

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