Facing the daily battle of encouraging children to eat their meals can be one of the most challenging and soul-destroying aspects of parenting.
Illness, growth spurts, and daily activities all contribute to their fluctuating appetite, but it is usually the evening meal in particular that can prove to be the most problematic as tiredness and irritability settle in for the day.
If parents can approach this time and phase positively through mannerisms, voice tone and a bag of tricks it can make or break a vicious daily cycle.
8 Mealtime Meltdown Tips Every Parent Should Know
- Stay positive
It is easy to react negatively especially when the parent also feels tired after a busy day. Remember that introducing new foods or encouraging children to eat foods they’ve eaten before is an easier transition if you stay positive and relaxed. Easier said than done, but persistence here will pay off in the long run.
- Keep them in the loop
I like to lead up to a meal with plenty of warning of what is expected. Children like to feel in control and by including them in the process can prepare for a mind-frame of acceptance before a meal is served. Perhaps you’ve been to a party that day, explain that tonight’s dinner will be a healthy meal or encourage excitement over a recipe you are going to try.
- Kids love to help
Being responsible for the stirring, grabbing some herbs from the garden or helping peel the corn during preparation will create some ownership of the meal. Have the children set the table with a specially designed menu and theme?
- Set the example
Even if it means eating a little earlier than usual, sit down to a meal as a family. Once your child is over a year old, there is no reason why you can’t all be eating the same food (perhaps a little mashed). Talk about what’s on your plate and have fun with games like who can eat the little tree (broccoli) the fastest or who can leave the biggest bite mark in the corn. Be the role model
- Say it like it is
Explain to your child that they are not expected to ‘like’ everything on their plate BUT they are expected to eat everything on their plate (assuming portion sizes are in check). Talk about how food gives us our energy and nutrients and helps us to grow and be strong. Of course, this is flexible if your child is sick and lost their appetite.
If these tips aren’t working
- Distract, distract, distract
Tell a funny story or get them to tell you their favourite part of the day to take the focus off the meal for a while. In between stories, prompt for a quick spoonful or bite.
- Don’t offer alternatives
This can just lead to failure down the track. Let them know that this is dinner and there will be nothing else to eat until breakfast if they don’t eat now. Remember, this is not a restaurant and you are not a short-order cook.
- Running late?
If the meal preparation is taking longer than expected, offer some of their dinner, raw carrots, frozen peas or grated cheese in a cup. This way they are occupied, and it can stop the wheels completely falling off before you can get their dinner on the table.
Perseverance is king and it may feel like you are putting in the hard yards in the beginning, but this will provide long term benefits. Remember, you are teaching your children a lifelong skill that is well worth the effort.
photo credit: National Features