Making mealtimes fun for kids

With the kids at home every day, mealtimes can go one of two ways, a family get together and a chance to enjoy a semblance of normality in these strangest of times or a chaotic scream-fest in which you try to keep them sat down long enough to fill them up.

Hopefully, dinner at your house goes well more often than not. But just in case, we’ve put together a few ideas to try to make sure your lockdown mealtimes with the kids are relaxing meals. 

It’s a family affair
Eating together makes for a much more enjoyable experience and builds a sense of family too. While there’s nothing wrong with fish fingers and other kid-friendly foods, it’s good to expose them to other foods as well. By eating together, your kids will get a chance to see you eating different, healthy dishes and hopefully start eating them as well. (Finally, my daughter eats hummus. Looking for a hummus recipe in preparation for International Hummus Day? We’ve got one for you).

Get them involved
The best way to get kids interested in 
dinner is to get them cooking with you. By asking them to do important jobs for you and assigning them tasks, they will feel like they are really helping. Everybody likes to feel responsible and needed and this applies to kids at dinner time too. 

Just remember that what might seem like an easy job for you, like “crack an egg in that bowl” or “grate some cheese, please”, are actually difficult tasks for children. They haven’t had the practice you have and will probably end up making a mess. But let’s not worry about that yet. 

Also, by getting kids more involved with the cooking, they will also be more inclined to eat up. After all, it’s their hard work they’ll be enjoying now, and they can see the effort that you put in every day.

Be realistic about dinners
Kids may be great little helpers around the kitchen, but they are not gourmet chefs. While they might be able to whisk an egg or mix the flour, they are not going to make a souffle or knock up an egg-white omelette. So just be sure your expectations line up with those of your pint-sized kitchen porters before you start cooking.

It’s all about choice
Why not let the kids choose what you’re having for dinner? You’ll need to be careful here as you could end up with chocolate sandwiches and pasta with jelly. But you can let them look through the cookbooks and see what catches their eye. With meals taking up so much time during lockdown, it’s a good idea to make up a weekly meal planner so you don’t need to 
think about it every day. You can even download our free weekly meal planner which is great if you’re trying to cut down on your meat and fish intake. If you've got some time at the weekend, you could also try some batch cooking and freeze extra meals to eat during the week.

Give your meals a theme
Whether it’s ponies, superheroes, teddy bears or dinosaurs, theming your meals will give the kids an opportunity to influence what happens at the dinner table. They can make place labels for everyone, table mats, or other table decorations. You could even cut the food into shapes to match the theme (getting a little trickier now).

Going out for a meal
For the moment, going out for dinner at a pub or restaurant is just a fond memory. But you (and especially your kids) still have an imagination, and now’s the time to use it. Just because you’re stuck (make that safe) at home doesn’t mean you can’t dress up and make mealtimes special. And it’ll give you a chance to change out of your day pyjamas and put on a nice outfit as well.

Service, please
Why not continue the restaurant theme by letting the kids pretend to be waiters? They could help you set the table and get the plates ready. You could also print up a menu for the day and let them take people’s orders and bring over the dishes (OK, so this one could get messy, but we’re still not worrying about that yet).

Any day is good for a picnic
Why not pack up some sandwiches, put some crisps and fruit in the hamper and head out to the garden for a picnic? Just don’t forget your thermos of tea. If it’s a nice day, you can put down the picnic blanket and enjoy lunch outside. And if it’s not a nice day or you don’t have a garden? No problem. Move the table to one side and put the blanket on the floor to pretend you’re having a picnic.

Buffet dinner
Instead of just plating up, have various dishes around the kitchen and everyone can help themselves. You might need to regulate what everyone has to eat if you try this though. Little ones might get carried away with the pasta and “forget” to put any veg on their plates.

Who’s had their 5 a-day?
We all know how important it is to eat a mixed diet, especially for kids. To make sure they eat well, you can set them eating goals and see who manages to get their five fruit and veg in first.

Dinner with the whole family
Not being able to go for dinner at grandma and grandad’s house can be really tough for kids during lockdown. But we live in a technological world now and our family are literally just a Zoom call away. You can also invite more than one household to the call, so even the biggest families can have a virtual get together.

Now you can worry about the mess
OK, the time has come. That mess we’ve been ignoring! Now’s the time to deal with it. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to keep your kitchen hands enthusiastic and get them to help you clean up as well. If not, well, it’ll take you a little longer, but surely that’s a small price to pay for a fun mealtime with the family.


About the author

Jodie Adam

Jodie is RSPCA Assured's Digital Communications Manager. 

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