Learn and Laugh operate six child care centres across Sydney and one deliciously innovative idea – a dinner service for busy families.
This means that parents can pick up wholesome takeaway meals when they collect their child from care, and the freshly-made dinners aren't just nutritious and tasty – they're cheap too.
Priced at just $5 per box, the meals come in kid-friendly options, like spaghetti bolognese and chicken stir fry, and they've been a big hit with parents as well.
One mum, Olivia, says: 'We absolutely love the dinner service. The Bolognese is delicious and it's such a relief to not have to worry about dinner after a long day at work and day care.'
While another mum, Fiona, explains, 'It means we always have dinner for Joey as soon as we get home – he doesn't have to wait for us as we usually eat later. He definitely prefers Ana the chef's cooking to mine too!'
The Learn and Laugh dinner service is a brilliant idea, but how else can parents take the stress out of mealtimes?
For those without access to a 'child care restaurant', it's still possible to make dinners easy and enjoyable after a long day at work and child care – even if you have a fussy eater.
For starters, it can help to:
- Plan ahead: choose the Monday to Sunday menu and stock up on ingredients in one shop, so that you’re organised in the kitchen and not constantly at the supermarket.
- Find some quick and tasty recipes everyone enjoys: the Internet is full of low-hassle family recipes, like these from bon appétit and, if possible, preparing one meal is less work than preparing two.
- Cook in bulk: think about making meals ahead of time and pulling them out of the freezer as needed.
- Take a break from cooking: this could mean sharing the meal preparation with your partner, ordering takeaway or eating out.
When it comes to sitting down at the table, the Raising Children Network has these suggestions to make dinner a positive family experience:
- Involve your child: depending on their age, your child might enjoy making the salad with you or setting the table.
- Make dinner a screen-free event: instead of watching TV or tablet, use the meal as an opportunity to communicate and engage with one another.
- Have fun with healthy food: it might be a tall order to plate up some food art at the end of the working day, but sticking a broccoli 'tree' into mashed potato 'snow' will tickle your child's imagination and tastebuds.
- Don't sweat the spilt stuff: instead of worrying about the food your child has dropped on the floor, try to focus on the happy and social side of eating.
- Be realistic: if your child is a fussy eater, then recognise that your spinach-hater is unlikely to munch through a plate of the stuff in one go. Praise them if they take a little nibble, and never force your child to try a food.
- Remember that fussiness is often par for the course: it's normal for children to be picky with food or have changeable appetites and palates. This is part of their development and how they exert independence, but the good news is that fussy eating is something they’ll most likely grow out of.
- Ignorance is sometimes bliss: if your child is being picky about their dinner, try to ignore it. Giving them attention may encourage continued fussing.
- Set a time limit: adults love a long lunch and a degustation dinner, but for children, about 20 minutes is a good length of time for meals. The Raising Children Network says, 'Anything that goes on too long isn't fun. If your child hasn't eaten the food in this time, take it away and don't offer your child more food until the next planned meal or snack time.'
And on that note, bon appétit!