Resource post for March
Is meal time stress time at your home? With two preschoolers to take care of, it can sometimes be for me. But I and my husband do our best to make meal times stress-free especially in the evenings because we know that the more relaxed our evening is, the better the kids – and us – could sleep. Besides, stress, as we know, is bad for our health, affects our appetite (either way is possible), and can interfere with our digestion. There is therefore a need to remove stress from our evening meals.
A recent WebMD article gave the following recommendations – 6 Ways to De-Stress at the Dinner Table:
- Turn down the volume.
- Set the Table to Set the Mood.
- Let There Be (Soft) Light.
- Control the Conversation.
- Keep Your Cool in the Kitchen.
- Keep It Real.
I agree with some of the tips given in the above list, especially the first one. However, each family is different. Add to the cultural differences in eating habits and you will agree there is no magic formula to a stress-free evening. I’d like to share with you our family’s strategies to have relaxing mealtimes in the evening.
No TV, no toys. No TV is allowed at meal times and no toys are allowed on the table either. It only takes one match box car to tip a glass over.
Keep it simple. Stress doesn’t just occur at the dinner table but in the kitchen as well. That is why we try to keep evening meals as simple as possible. On weekdays, everybody in the family gets a substantial warm meal either at the office canteen or at school cafeteria. Suppers at home would consist of whole grain bread, cheese, cold cuts, and sliced fresh vegetables. Low-fat fruit yoghurt or fruit mousse serves as dessert. If necessary, I can quickly make a vegetable soup in winter time. However, having this simple, easy but still healthy meal in the evenings saves me the stress of kitchen work.
Now, you may ask. How can preschoolers survive without chicken nuggets, fries, or macaroni with cheese in the evening? Ours can because they’re used not used to having them in the first place. A study by Australian researchers called Parental Attitudes and Nutrition Knowledge. showed that children learn the taste for healthy food from their parents. And their preferences are already evident as early as age 5. Our kids would remind me if I forget the veggie cuts in the evening. They just love them.
Eat together. No matter how simple the fare is, it is important that the family sits together during the meal. According to the WebMD article “recent research at Columbia University found that children who regularly had dinner with their families are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, and more likely to do better in school. In fact, studies show the best-adjusted children are those who eat with an adult at least five times a week, says Ann Von Berber, PhD, chair of the department of nutrition sciences at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.”
Keep it early. An early evening meal is recommended especially if you have little kids. Remember that going to bed with a full stomach is not really the best strategy for a good night sleep. We usually have supper at 6 pm, at the latest at 6:30 pm. That way, the kids can be in bed by 8 pm. However, an early supper is only possible if you keep it simple. Mind you, in some cultures (e.g. southern Europe, for example), dinner cannot start earlier than 8 pm.
Avoid take outs. We are not big fans of take outs, be it pizza or Chinese noodles or burgers. While some people think take outs are convenient, I think otherwise. I think take outs are unhealthy and wasteful (think of all those packaging) and should only be opted for under special circumstances.
Work as a team. Involve the kids in setting the table. Get them to help with peeling and slicing the vegetables, as well as with the cleaning up afterwards. This way, things go much faster.
Keep the special touches for the weekend. Weekends are slow food time at home. Saturdays and Sundays are the days reserved for specially prepared meal. There is more time to plan and shop and cook on the weekends. No need to rush or panic. Whoever is in the kitchen doesn’t get stressed or harried. On the weekends, we start our day together with a late breakfast or brunch. Early afternoon, we have a light snack which could be soup, fruit salad, or cake. And then we end the day with a 3-course meal. With candlelight and all. In the summer time, a barbecue on the terrace is warranted.
I like cooking for my family. But I can’t do it 7 days a week under time pressure after having had a long working day. I will be stressed, my husband will be stressed, and the kids will be stressed. Meal times should be times when a family sit together and talk, not argue or bicker. After a day’s work or school, the evening meal is the time to wind down and talk about the day’s events. The less stress there is, the better for everybody.
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