Tips to Make Mealtime a Pleasurable Experience
On my desk is a pamphlet about feeding your child ages 1 to 6 and a questionnaire for an upcoming well-child visit. There was a time when both of these items made me feel like a parental failure. Why? The questionnaire revealed that my children didn’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, and the pamphlet made me feel even worse, because I had tried all the feeding suggestions and nothing seemed to help. At the end of the day, I succumbed to the fact that my kids are just kids. They are picky eaters, they eat in “jags” (only eating one type of food, meal after meal), and every day is a taste bud adventure for them. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned that have helped me manage my picky eaters—I hope they help you too!
Attempt to Control Only What You Are Able – Yourself, Meal Timing, and Snacks!
While it is impossible to control everything, the one thing I knew I was in control of was my reaction, when they ate, and snacks. Children will pick up on your anxiety over this issue. Think about how you want to handle the situation before it arises and follow through with how you want to respond to them. Don’t set yourself up for failure by eating too late. Do your best to keep a consistent mealtime to avoid contributing to mealtime drama. Limit snack quantities and stagger the timing of snacks so they won’t interfere with your child’s appetite later.
Break Down the Meal
In general, most kids want meals that are uncomplicated. While I prefer that we all eat the same meal, I know the girls will not be crazy about a meal with too many complex flavors. I have found the easiest way to encourage the one meal for all plan is to break down the meal. Before I combine everything together, I set aside some of the main components (meat, veggie, rice or pasta) of the meal and cook them separate (or at least attempt to keep them “uncontaminated” from other foods). I allow them to decide if they want to combine food items or eat them separately.
Bribery, Privileges, Incentives, and Other Forms of Extortion
Don’t do it. I know how easy it is to say, “If you have three more bites you can have dessert” – just try not to say it. You know, and I know, that none of those methods work. Incentivizing your child’s meal performance is a slippery slope that will be difficult to climb back up. Along the lines of dessert, offer fruit or another dessert that leans more on the healthy side.
The Bite Rule
I try to stay away from a specific number of bites. Instead the rule is to give everything a try. Around our table this method has actually been successful in getting them to eat more. There is less pressure because all they need to do is give everything a try. A taste is all it takes for them to realize they actually like what is being served!
Family Meal Time
I have found the girls eat best when our mealtime revolves around everyone talking about their day and less about their meal performance. Set an example early on with your children around the value of family mealtime. Turn off the TV, sit together, talk about your day, and give thanks. Make your time together enjoyable!