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Dinner Guests May Improve Children’s Eating Habits

If you'd like to help your child become a better eater, invite one of the child’s friends to dinner.

Asking a friend over for dinner benefits your child in many ways. When kids eat with a special guest, it's a great opportunity for them to work on manners and social skills. Plus, your child may be more likely to try new foods with a buddy at the table. Who wants to embarrass themselves by being a picky eater?

Having guests also benefits the whole family because that’s when we tend to eat a more nutritious meal complete with healthful side dishes such as a salad of leafy greens and whole-grain bread.

So go ahead and get social. Here's how:

  • Join in the fun. While setting a kids'-only table is popular, consider sitting with your children at meals. Having an adult at the table makes meals a teachable moment. You can model good manners and praise the kids for trying new foods.
  • Get the conversation flowing. Good conversation and good food go hand in hand. If guests are shy at the dinner table, get them involved by asking questions such as, "What is your favorite fall meal when the weather turns cool?" Or go around the table and let everyone take turns sharing about their day.
  • Take it outside. Meals with friends don't have to be a formal event around the kitchen or dining room table. If the weather still is nice enough, plan a barbecue with friends in the backyard. If the weather is cold or rainy, have a "picnic" in the family room.
  • Unplug it. Dinnertime is one of the few times in our hectic lives that we can give our kids our undivided attention. Make the most of this by tuning into your kids and their guests by turning off the TV and putting away mobile devices.
  • Keep 'em busy. Kids are more likely to be on their best behavior if they're engaged. Before mealtime, let kids and their friends help set the table and, if they're old enough, pour drinks. Afterward, keep a stash of games and playing cards nearby to keep kids occupied while you clean up.
Brittany Twiss, R.D., L.R.D., Program Assistant, NDSU Extension

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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