Ever wondered how some parents seem to be able to get their children to eat anything and others seem to fight a battle of wills to get a child to eat anything other than dry cereal or French fries? Ever marveled at the mother who fixes three different dinners every night because John wants fish and Susie will only eat hot dogs and Becky is on a diet and wants salad? Ever tried to figure out how it is that a single parent can feed their kids and hold down a full-time job? Let mealtime be a chore no more!
Here are a few tips for making mealtime more pleasurable and less stress - for you.
1. Don’t run a restaurant. You already have one job and there is no license hanging on the kitchen wall. Don’t fall into the trap of making a different meal to fit everyone’s order. Prepare a nutritiously balanced meal and serve. That is all there is to it. If they don’t like it, then they don’t eat. There are no substitutions, no alternate meal plans, and no snacks if they don’t eat dinner. You may hear a few complaints at first, but you are not out to raise spoiled and picky eaters. Stuff some cotton in those ears and serve up dinner with a smile!
2. Don’t fall for the gag theory. There is literally no food that is going to make a child gag unless they already have the idea in their head before they put the food in their mouth. If they begin to gag over anything, they may be excused from the table. No dessert, no snacks, no peanut butter sandwich substitute. They will reconsider the gag theory at the next meal.
3. Choose healthy snacks and foods that establish a good pattern of eating in the early years. Variety is the spice of life. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean that your children won’t like it. Try everything! Ditch the junk and load ‘em up with nutrition; they will thank you later. Remember that taste buds change over the years. My mother swears that spinach was my favorite vegetable when I was young and I know that I hated brussel sprouts. As an adult, I love brussel sprouts and won’t touch spinach with a ten-foot pole! But my daughters love them both… Don’t be afraid to introduce new tastes, colors, and textures in food.
4. Don’t play the “Guilt for Dinner” game. “Mom, I’m starving! What’s for dinner?” “Baked chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans.” “Lunch today was nasty and you know I don’t like baked chicken. Can’t we have something else?” By the time you argue it back and forth, it is generally easier to just give in. Not so at my house. The conversation goes a bit differently…
“Mom, I’m starving! What’s for dinner?” “Food.” “What kind of food?” “Good food.” “What kind of good food?” “Good, nutritious food.” They know the routine - have since they were little. They still do it, just for laughs.
5. Don’t force a child to eat. But don’t provide substitutions or sympathy. No child is going to die over one skipped meal. The battle of wills won’t be worth the indigestion you will be doctoring later in the evening. If they don’t want to eat, let them leave the table. But again, no dessert, no snacks, no substitutions.
6. Make meals a fun, family event. Allow the children to help in preparing the meal, setting the table, planning menus for the week, grocery shopping, finding new recipes, and making an adventure out of trying new foods. You would be surprised what a child will eat when he helped to prepare it himself!
7. Remember that your children will do their own food exploration, whether you encourage it or not. Peas will be mixed with mashed potatoes; ketchup will appear in the chicken noodle soup; and Ranch dressing will make an excellent topping for leftover pizza crust. Don’t be alarmed. As long as your child eats - for the most part - nutritionally sound, these small explorations won’t harm a fly.
Remove the stress; ditch the mess; and you will have success. Mealtimes don’t have to be a chore. Put the fun back in food - for you and your family.