4 year old Julie loves to put her hands in her soup and extract the animal pasta. Dimitri , who is 2 years old complains loudly that he doesn’t like the green stuff and pushes it off his plate. Shanae spills her drink and Con won’t sit at the table at meal time.
Many parents dread mealtimes to the extent that they will give children less healthy servings much of the time in order to see their children consuming some food in a peaceful way. Power struggles often develop when family members have differing ideas about what and how much needs to be eaten. Children have contradictory ideas about staying put at a table for a certain amount of time. Many parents want to retain the right to serve all the food and to have their children sit still and eat without complaint for the duration of the meal. Children are often expected to eat a meal while a parent hovers over them or sits and becomes absorbed in another activity which doesn’t involve food. Parents would like their offspring to eat nicely with cutlery (if old enough) and keep their food on a plate or bowl and their drink in the cup or in their belly. Many parents would much prefer that their children’s legs and voices were dormant throughout the meal.
The tips below will help families to enjoy meal times and to consume healthy food in a socially acceptable manner. Interesting conversation and serving of food will be encouraged at the table. Family members will be able to sit together , eat together and relate to each other with eye contact and calm voices. I have developed these tips after spending many years raising my own four children and working with many other children.
- place a bowl or plate of healthy food and some water on the table
- sit down with the children and serve some for yourself
- show genuine enjoyment when eating and ask if anyone would like some food
- give or allow children to serve themselves a small portion (if old enough) when they are seated properly at the table
- have a conversation about anything other than the reason for eating good food (of course good nutrition needs to be discussed occasionally)
- praise children for sitting nicely, eating nicely, waiting patiently etc
- say nothing about the amount they are eating
- if they don’t wish to eat anything offered say nothing and keep sitting down and eating yourself
- give attention to the children that are sitting down properly
- if they leave the table ask them to please sit down at the table and join the family
- if they don’t do so, ignore them (whilst keeping an eye on them for safety )
- after several courses on plates or in bowls, offer plain bread or fruit if little has been eaten
- don’t have too many choices and keep to healthy foods
- if giving treats, give at the end of meals or between meals and ensure that they are small
- keep junk foods out of reach in the kitchen cupboards or fridge
- If children don’t eat at a particular meal, they might not be hungry and will probably eat more at the next meal.
- When they are ill or upset they may lose their appetite temporarily
- children will naturally eat the amount of food that they need and the type of food that they require when offered healthy choices
- avoid power struggles at all costs
- if children play with utensils or food excessively take it away after a warning
- variety is the spice of life
- everybody has different food preferences