Every Monday night as we go to sleep, my husband leans over, gives me a kiss and whispers “Night. Love you. Bins in the morning”. Oh, be still my beating heart, you’re killing me with the romance.
Luckily I get it, the bins are a big deal around here, I’m delighted it wasn’t me who had to do them in the rain this morning and fortunately, we’re fairly good at knowing what day of the week it is. We’ve been caught out a few times around Christmas though when the day has changed and we’ve missed it. No-one wants to put bin bags full of turkey carcasses and cheese rinds in the car and drive half an hour to the tip with the windows down in winter.
I’ve learned a lot about forming good habits from listening to a podcast called ‘Happier’ with Gretchen Rubin and her sister Elizabeth Craft. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not on some existential search for ‘happiness’, but I was drawn into it when I realised that so many of the hacks and tips they offer up are practical and realistic. Like pairing taking medication with brushing teeth or how to avoid eating too many biscuits at work (they call this ‘the curse of the evil doughnut bringer’), or knowing your personality type better in order to implement real habit change in your life.
So, how can habit formation help you feed your brood better?
Taking time out to make a weekly meal plan is key. A meal plan will save you time, money, stress and you’ll be feeding a greater variety of healthier food simply because you’ve thought about it in advance. I always say that meal planning is sexy because it helps reduce stress levels. Arranging a time slot in your week to meal plan is key to this. I used to always meal plan on a Thursday afternoon when my son had a nap. Now that kind of time slot is a thing of the past, I’m less good at finding the time, but I have an online shop that needs completing by Saturday night which forces me into accountability and gets the job done!
I have a routine delivery on a Sunday night. My husband and I put it all away together and Monday mornings are the blank slate moment in the week. If this is something you want to start, you need to find a day of the week that suits you best so that you have time to build a list and you’re likely to be available to put it all away.
Don’t wait for bad moods to strike, pre-empt them by getting into the habit of organising a mid-morning and mid-afternoon savoury snack. Not too much so it spoils their appetite, not so little that they beg for more right before a meal. And having snack foods on your shopping list will help keep a stash in the cupboards too.
The strongest habit you can form to help with fussy eating is to eat together as a family as often as possible. If you have a partner who is away a lot, or returns from work later, it’s still worth trying to eat together with the children. Watching you eat is the best way they will learn to trust you and the food you provide. And if you make a habit of being great company at the table (I mean really good chat), they will be more willing to sit down at the table and join you in the long term.
In much the same vein as with fussy eating, forming the long term habit of eating together as often as possible is a one that will measurably improve your relationships and have a positive impact on your children’s wellbeing. Make a habit of having happy and meaningful interactions with each other over meals and you’re more likely to see a positive impact on your eating habits in the future. Try using silly or interesting question starters to turn the mood around e.g. Where do eggs come from? What’s the biggest spider in the world? What would you do with a million pounds?
Getting into the habit of laying the table is a brilliant way to give subconscious messages to the family that tea time is important to you – that they are important to you. I like to think of it as family date night. Everyone has a place laid for them, cutlery, cup and the appropriate chair.
SERVING FAMILY STYLE
Bringing the food to the table in bowls rather than on individual plates is highly recommended to help with fussy eating. I really love how it provides opportunities for children to help themselves, practise manners and learn about portion control. I have also developed a terrible habit of buying beautiful serving bowls whenever I see them… the less said about this, the better.
We have a tiered fruit bowl in our kitchen. The children have developed the ninja skills needed to scale the work surfaces and retrieve apples, satsumas, bananas – all the fruits you can eat without preparation. When it comes to tea time, we sometimes – not always – serve chopped fruit and natural yoghurt either before or after. Puddings generally only happen when we have guests (and not always when we have guests either!). Puddings are one habit we’ve successfully avoided and our children don’t seem to grave sweet after a meal.
Making habits stick successfully is more about routine than anything else. It takes several weeks of a new routine to really get it to stick, so don’t give up too easily – if you have solid reasons for attempting a new habit, it will work, so long as you give it a fair chance. I find pairing a really helpful way to implement a routine. The latest new routine in our house is getting homework done between 4-5 pm on the afternoons we’re home from school whilst I make tea and drink a cuppa. Fingers crossed I can make it through the first few weeks. Wish me luck!