Saturday, 9 May 2009

Eating together

As I mentioned in a recent post, there are many parenting choices that we all make. I think that we all probably have one or two parenting things that we're very determined about. This might be something basic like never smacking, or something coming from underlying principles, such as bringing a family up vegan, using reusable nappies or never (or only) considering private school. There are things that we think we're going to be determined about before giving birth (one of mine was no TV - hah!), until reality kicks in. And there are some that we end up sticking with, despite setbacks and suggestions/advice to the contrary.

One of ours is eating together. We started right from the moment Rosemary was remotely considering food - and, I have to say, it's a lot easier to manage if you're going with baby-led weaning, rather than spoon-feeding purees. At first she sat on our laps, while we ate, occassionally trying a carrot or bit of brocolli from our plates. Then she moved into her high chair and was presented with a selection of things to try - the same things we were eating. The dog got much of it - he put on a lot of weight when Rosemary was first discovering food. After a while, she moved into a booster seat and started using cutlery and keeping food on her plate (for the most part - she still sometimes puts food she doesn't want on the table or experiments with mixing her food and juice). More recently, she just sits or kneels on an ordinary chair and, mostly, eats with fork and spoon, even cutting up her own food. All this has been done at the same table as us, eating (dinner) at the same time as us and eating the same food as us.

We've had to bring dinner time forwards, gradually. At first, she was eating with us at our normal mealtime, between 8 and 9. Then it got earlier so we could fit in a longer bedtime routine. Then it got even earlier, because she was going to bed at a 'normal' child time. These days we eat between 5pm and 5.30pm, occasionally as late as 6pm. This is not our ideal mealtime. We both prefer a later dinner and often end up nibbling on things in the evening, anyway. And lately Rosemary seems to need more sleep, often falling asleep in the afternoon, or very soon after dinner. Last night, in fact, she fell asleep five minutes before dinner. She did polish the whole thing off for breakfast. She can be so tired that she hardly touches her dinner, or plays with it and gets down from the table and runs around. On the very rare occasions when she's allowed to eat in the living room (she now has a little table and chair in there), in front of the TV, she seems to eat much more (this is not something I want to turn into a habit!).

So, I wonder sometimes whether we're wrong to make such a big thing out of eating together, or whether we should do it at lunchtime instead and just let her have a light tea in the afternoon and an even earlier bedtime. I know we're very lucky to have the opportunity to eat together. In these days of long hours at work and commuting, having both of us here to start cooking at 4pm and sit down to eat as early as 5pm, is a real luxury. I always feel sorry for friends who don't get home from work until 7pm and just about manage to squeeze in a bath and bedtime story, if that, so giving that up, even for a few years would just seem wrong. Other friends miss out on it during the week, but make a big thing of family dinners at the weekend, perhaps enjoying it more because it's not an everyday occurrence.

Or, should we perhaps encourage an afternoon nap and go back to a later evening meal, all together? When I lived in Spain as a child, we'd have a two-hour siesta in the middle of the day (as I recall, we went home from school at lunchtime to do so and then went back again for a couple of hours after, though my memory may be faulty) and I would stay up and eat with my parents, often as late as 8.30pm 9pm. So maybe aiming for a more continental routine would work better for us. I certainly enjoy having an afternoon nap (sorry, siesta!) when I can fit it in these days!

So... what do you do? Would you prefer to do something different, but can't due to work? Have you found a good balance that you're all happy with? Do you just do whatever needs to be done to get something resembling nutrition into your children?


  1. On a sunday we have a late 'lunch' at 4pm to make sure we have at least one meal where Iosbel has both her parents.

    Being single working mum it rarely happens otherwise. Saturday breakfast Isobel and have together.

    But it is something I ish we did more of, but then there are plenty of those...

  2. I love eating together and we aim to have one meal a day together, that may be lunch or dinner depending on husbands' shifts.

  3. We have only recently started eating together .. in the last 6 months. Before that the kids would eat at 5 and we would eat after they'd gone too bed.

    For us, eating together has meant more chatting about each others day and I think has helped the 3 year olds speech along. They also try more foods and behave better when we're all together. It also means that we are not cooking and washing up two evening meals.

    At the weekends we relax it a little for one or two nights when husband and I will wait till the kids are in bed and watch a film with a bottle of wine (or two - ahem) and a takeaway or something spicy (which the littlies wont eat)

  4. That's a very interesting point. Like you said earlier there those decisions we make before the children are born and one of ours was "we will eat dinner together"... well it happens that until nowish it never worked. My husband is usually home around 6pm meaning that we could have a 6.30 together... in principle. In reality it didn't work like that until just a couple of weeks ago. We decided to implement the French way, so we started a big snack at about 4pm consisting of something bready like a brioche, a fruit and milk or yogurt. It tends to fill him up until dinner time which we were aiming to have around 7pm. Unfortunately that made the evenings drag and the kids were not happy going to bed, because they would be too tired. So we now have found a balance and they have dinner no later than 6.30. We don't seem to be able to fit in our dinner though so at the moment, they have dinner on their own and we eat later when they are in bed.
    However being a work at home mum means that I have lunch with them everyday, and I love it.
    Also at weekends we try to have every meal together, which is lovely.
    I have great hope that by the time V my younger is 2 we will be having dinner together every day.

  5. I always wanted to have family dinners but as ex would not get home till 6.30pm at the earliest, it was never possible. Now, I don't have to wait and we will quite often eat together, but I ought to make it more of a regular habit. The boys do love the sense of occasion of sitting down together - but much prefer carpet picnics and any eating opportunity that doesn't require sitting on chairs.

  6. we all eat lunch together and then the girls have their tea on their own at about 4:30pm becuase after then they get too tired to eat and just whinge a lot.

    i did start off making tea for all of us but it just didn't work because they got hungry before us and didn't want an afternoon sleep. they've always prefered to go to bed early than have a sleep in the day. i would just follow rosemary's lead and see whats best for her and like i say 'if it isn't broke don't fix it' lol! x

  7. I think eating together is one of the best things you can do. I try to do it every day with my daughter although it doesn't always work out, but when it does I get to find out all about her day and any worries she has. It's so easy to miss out on those conversations.

  8. Interesting post. (Think I prefix all my comments to you with this)!! We have a funny life here because hubby can be away for weeks at a time and then home for weeks at a time, so there's no getting home in the evening to worry about. I definitely think it's important for families to eat together, but for us this is NEVER in the evening - we try to do it at lunchtime instead (which we can when hubby is at home). The girls normally eat their 'evening' meal between 4 and 5 and are in bed by 6. That then gives us adults the whole evening together, which for me is really important because I am on my own with the girls most of the time and am dead by the evening. If they were to stay up longer I would never have a moment to myself, other than when I slept! But it is easier for them because there are two of them - so they eat together rather than just one on their own...

  9. My husband doesn't even get home until 6.30 - 7.30 and he does 90% of the cooking so we don't eat dinner until 8.30 usually, after the kids are in bed. We eat our breakfast and lunches together and occasionally will eat dinner together if my daughter is staying up a bit later, but otherwise she eats by herself at 5.30/6. I'd love to eat all together but at the moment our schedule just doesn't allow it. Maybe if my husband starts working the earlier shift, like he's been promising...

    Oh, and I hear ya on the 'I said my kids wouldn't watch tv before I had them - ha!' thing. I now laugh at my former self thinking my children would never taste sugar or watch tv until they were at least 4. I know some people manage it and I think it's fantastic but I'd go insane without a bit of tv-and-chocolate-induced 'me time'.

  10. Surprised: Your Sunday lunch sounds great. Really nice to make sure she has a chunk of time with both of you together - I'm sure there are plenty of people who don't manage that.

    Erica: I don't know why we don't normally eat lunch together, when we're all here. We usually end up with Rosemary eating hers in the living room in front of the TV, one of us grabbing a bite while tidying in the kitchen and the other at their desk while working. Today we did all have lunch in the living room together at the same time, which was actually quite nice, though Chris did still have a computer in front of him.

    Laura: That's really interesting to hear that you've seen an improvement since starting eating together. Makes me more inclined to stick at it as far as possible. The benefits you mention are some of the reasons why we always wanted to do it.

    Peggy: It's good to hear that you've tried the more continental timing and it hasn't worked out, at the moment. I imagine it may be more difficult at this young an age, and would probably be easier once they're at school - perhaps! We're off to France for a week in July (can't wait - wish it was next week!) and I wonder if we'll just do things like here, or if we'll naturally fall into the slightly later dinner.

    Nicola: Rosemary loves picnics, too. We had dinner round at my sister's yesterday evening, sat out in her lovely courtyard and Rosemary called it a picnic because it was outside, despite being sat at a table with fancy dinner mats and glasses and so on. She also behaved herself much, much better than she is inclined to do at home, which gives me some hope for an occasional foray into a restaurant.

    Amy: As I said to Erica, for some reason we tend not to think about having lunch together. Do you have a cooked lunch or just sandwiches or something? We always have a home-cooked meal at dinner time, but lunch is usually something fairly snacky, like sandwiches or noodles or sometimes leftovers. I think I'd be more inclined to sit down together for a 'proper' lunch!

    Rosie: Those conversations are one of things I'm looking for, though think it will be another year or so before they become substantial. My mother tells me that they always used to eat dinner together (she has three sisters and also had two foster sisters over the years), but were not allowed to talk because her father wanted silence so he could read. Now, I'm not one for banning reading at the table, but I'd much rather a lively conversation than enforced silence.

    Emily: Thank you, I like 'interesting', though I do sometimes yearn for 'hilarious' or 'thrilling' or something along those lines (unrealistically, really, because that just clealy isn't my style). In bed by six?! Wow. I can see how that would be necessary, though, and it must be especially nice when hubby is home to have whole evenings of adult time together. Out of interest, what time do they get up in the morning? Rosemary seems to get, on average, about 11 hours a night, and I have a feeling she could do with bringing that up to 12 somehow.

    NS: That seems to be fairly common these days to have one or both parents not getting home until late. Breakfasts are another meal (along with lunch) that tends to be taken very separately. Chris tends to a lot of work in the evenings and gets up after Rosemary and me, so he's not up when we have breakfast. And I'm usually running around trying to get ready, load/unload dishwashers and washing machines and so on and so Rosemary ends up eating her breakfast on the sofa, in front of the TV, far too often. When we have visitors, though, we tend to make a big thing of it and all eat at the table with lots of bits and bobs - fruit, yoghurt, cereal, toast, scrambled or fried eggs, porridge... And it's usually really nice when we do, because Rosemary's at her most cheerful and talkative first thing in the morning. Now, I'm thinking we should do that more often, too, even if it's just me and her.

    Ah - sugar, yes, that's another one. We managed to hold back on chocolate until she was probably around 15 months and amazingly she still believes us when we tell her sweets and fizzy pop are for grown-ups. But she has the sweetest tooth, regardless - chocolate and ice cream being top of her favourites list. To be fair, though, she is also very fond of fruit and happily eats plenty of different vegetables, so the occasional bit of sugar is acceptable, I think.

  11. Ha ha - Tasha you are hilarious!! There, that ok for you?? I'll do it on your next post too if you like (although people might think I'm a bit strange if it's a serious and informative piece)!! So yeah bedtime - I get palpitations if they go to bed after 7 and any time after about 6.15 is 'starting to get really late now girls'!! They normally wake up about 7 but it can be before or after depending on light/temperature of room, what they did in the day, etc. I have a friend who's a teacher and she said they always do a quick survey to try to work out what time the children normally go to sleep and how long they sleep for and she says she'll never forget the cleverest child she ever taught went to sleep at 6pm... Obviously it's not going to work for all children and you have to somehow wean them into it, but it really makes a difference to their states of mind (and body) the next day. My husband is French, and like Peggy we have tried the continental thing too (although only when we go to stay in France because we don't have any choice) and my children are literally hanging by a thread at 8pm. By 9 they are screaming and pleading to go to bed. All my French family think I'm totally anal, but I'm just not able to relax in the evening until the children are in bed!! Apologies for my ridiculously long post!! x

  12. Emily: Think maybe we'll look at pulling Rosemary's bedtime back a little, if she shows a lot of tiredness consistently. She's a lot busier now and there's less time for her to proper quiet time, so she'll probably need that bit more sleep. She did wake up a bit later today, though, so maybe she'll get the extra that way.

  13. Tasha, I hope you have a wonderful week in France! We are also going in July and I can't wait :)

    Look at you Emily with your kids sleeping until 7am! That's a lie in for me!! Whether they go to bed at 7 or 8.30 they're still up between 5.30 and 6.00... I don't know what to do anymore so I bought shares at the berocca firm instead... oh and I have the same problem when we visit the French family, they still can't get their round the fact that some kids eat dinner AT 17.30!! IS THIS POSSIBLE?!

  14. We are BLWers in our house too: currently with one 18m old and another on the way. Daddy out of the house 6.30-6.30 (sometimes later),and with bedtime strictly at 7pm, eating as a family just isn't on the cards mon-fri. I always eat breakfast and lunch with my boy, and I have a snack at 4pm when he has his tea, so I am "sitting down and eating with you, look!". I always make extra of our grown up evening meal for his 4pm tea the next day, so I'm not cooking an extra time.But when we do all eat together, it's really special :-)

  15. I've been focusing on that this year. I try to have a few meals a week that we all eat together. It does tend to be earlier -- around 5.30/6.30. I find that if I leave it a bit later, they are hungrier and eat more.

  16. Little pressie for you over at mine xx

  17. Peggy: Thank you. I have a feeling the trip's going to make us want to move to France. There are many reasons why would love to, but also a fair few that would make me want to stay. Not the least of which is the expense of the exchange rate at the moment!

    Allgrownup: BLW is great, isn't it?! So much easier and takes the panic out of the whole weaning business, I found. Hope Number 2 takes to it as well as Rosemary did.

    We sometimes wonder about making extra dinner (often end up with extra, anyway) and giving it to Rosemary the next day. In fact, sometimes, if she falls asleep too early or doesn't eat much of her dinner, she'll have it for breakfast. She's currently finishing off last night's eggs, chips and beans (Friday night treat)!

    I can imagine eating together would be extra special when you don't do it on a daily basis. I was pleasantly surprised to see that eating together on a special occasion (going to dinner at my sister's last weekend, for example, or to Sunday lunch at my mum's) is special and Rosemary is generally on best behaviour.

    Susanna: That's interesting that they eat more if it's a bit later. I imagine this comes as they get a bit older. At the moment, eating later has the opposite effect on Rosemary, as it just means she's too tired to concentrate on eating.

    Emily: Thank you!

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