It can be difficult to consistently have your entire family sit down together to eat, but for some families, it’s even tougher to get the children to actually eat. If that’s your family, help is here!
I recently wrote about a few simple ways avoid warfare and food battles with your children, at the family table. Below are some comprehensive recommendations that you can implement instead, to take the stress out of mealtimes.
First, please remember that no one knows the stomach of a young child better than that child. So, the focus should always be more about what they are eating, than exactly how much of it. The exception is if your child is losing weight, lethargic, or you are otherwise concerned. Then, always speak to your pediatrician about your child’s diet.
Putting some (or all) of this into practice, will make your table a much more enjoyable place to be.
Eat as a family as often as possible. If for whatever reason you are not eating at the same time, do still sit with them and have a pleasant time. Demonstrate the importance of eating well, relaxing, and enjoying food. You’ll enjoy that time too!
Model a positive relationship with food. In short, make sure to eat the healthy foods you want your child to try. If other people in the home refuse specific or several foods, it’s likely the younger members will learn that behavior. I certainly wouldn’t try a banana, if I had never seen anyone eat one before!
Have strict family mealtime rules. However you choose to run mealtimes in your home, make sure that children explicitly know what is expected of them, and keep very firmly to those limits. An example might be that children stay at the table until everyone is finished, or that your table is a whine free zone. In our home, the rule is that we don’t complain about food, period; if someone doesn’t like something, they simply eat what they do like and leave the rest alone. We don’t need to be constantly notified when our kids dislike something; we already know quite well! This makes for zero whining and a very pleasant environment.
Avoid power struggles at all cost. There is more than one person at the table, and getting pulled into arguments, manipulation, and spending the meal nagging, can ruin the meal for everyone. The hope is for meals together to be a positive daily experience for everyone in your home.
If, after only 5 bites of lunch, your child says they are full/finished, trust them to know their stomachs. As long as it was a healthy food choice, there is nothing to worry about. Avoid bribing, coercing, or threatening them, to get more food in, because this teaches them the opposite of what we want them to learn, which is to listen to their bodies.
When we fight with children to eat more, or force them to eat something they dislike, what we are saying to them is that we do not trust them to make their own decisions about food. In turn, this can undermine the development of self-confidence. Although we cannot control how much they eat, or whether they try it, luckily we can control what they are offered.
You decide what to offer; they decide whether to eat it and how much of it to eat. Sometimes parents tell me that their child will only eat junk food, or that their child will only have hot dogs for supper every day These are examples of choices that belong squarely with parents. If changes are to be made, it’s important that parents be in control of what children have access to. If a child wants to eat junk food all day, remove it from your home. If there are no hot dogs in the fridge, your child will have to eat something else. It’s unlikely that she only eats hot dogs, so include something nutritious that she will eat, alongside the lasagna, and call it a day.
The next and final installment of this series will focus on the biggest challenge of all, the “picky eater”, and techniques for changing the eating habits of especially persnickety little diners. I will outline specific steps you can take to establish healthy eating habits in even the most critical taster!