Almost every family has no doubt experienced it. The dreaded mealtime encounter of “I don’t like it, I’m not eating it”, followed by the battle of wills, pleading, bargaining, commanding, then onto the endless hours of googling and pulling your hair out trying to find a way to please everyone’s individual mealtime preferences.
If you’re exhausted just reading that, no doubt you’re exhausted living it!
There is a way to end that problem once and for all. And it’s not a magic recipe. A special way of cutting or presenting food (though that never hurts!) or a ‘formula’ to follow to create willing palates.
Far simpler than any of that. You just have to make a choice not to get drawn into the battle. Just make a choice not to argue about it. Plain and simple. The battle is over before it begins.
Food is one of the greatest pleasures in my life and it’s something I believe is incredibly important to pass onto my children. A love of and an understanding of good nutrition and a healthy relationship with their food is a priority on my parenting journey.
Of course my kids try it on. They tantrum and experiment with their likes and dislikes, just like everyone else out there.
I just make a choice, plain and simple, that I’m not going to turn it into a battle. And far quicker than you think, kids very quickly get the message.
I am far too busy working and caring for all three of my kids to stress myself out about what to cook every night that will please everyone. I’m far too appreciative of a varied diet to succumb to only having spaghetti bolognese seven days in a row. And I’m far too conscious of the importance of good food to allow them to survive on a diet of junk.
Our Family Mealtime Rules
- Parents provide, children decide.
- I provide healthy, nutritious options, my children can decide how much they eat from what’s served up. And sometimes that means nothing.
- There is no replacement option.
- The kids are actively involved in making choices about the food we eat. It’s not about control, it’s about being efficient and providing boundaries for a healthy diet.
- I take into account our family preferences and create family-friendly healthy options. No fancy cuisine in this house, just simple, good food that the ‘majority’ of the time, is readily accepted.
- Treats are totally fine, I just don’t have them in the house. They are very much a ‘sometimes’ food. We ‘crowd out’ the cravings with healthy food, so that when it comes to the more indulgent items, it’s no big deal.
- We discuss what good food is and how good food makes you feel. We also discuss why they may feel ‘not so great’ after eating not-so-great foods.
- There are no strings attached to a meal. Food is there to nourish your body. It’s not a bribe, a punishment or a ‘you can xzy if you eat…’
- We encourage playfulness with food. Don’t want to eat it? That’s fine. But bet you can’t kiss it! Bet you can’t lick it! What – you did! WOW!
- Variety is the spice of life. I offer a lot of options, regardless of whether or not they ‘like it’. Children often need to see food many times over before they will be ready to try it. It took me three years of regularly serving up carrots to get my eldest to try them.
- We don’t say ‘doesn’t like’. We simply say ‘choosing not to eat that today’. A food being rejected a few times, followed by the frequent labelling of a ‘fussy child’ and a consistent validation of ‘doesn’t like, doesn’t like” can end up with you creating your child’s own truth!
- Children’s appetites are incredibly varied. Especially during the toddler years. Be aware of growth spurts and energy needs. Your child may need more frequent, smaller meals at a younger age than a traditional three meals and two snacks per day.
- When considering how much to serve up, halve what you think you should put on the plate. Then halve it again. This will save food being ‘wasted’ and avoid your young child feeling overwhelmed at the sight of a large meal. You can always give more if it’s readily accepted.
It’s not easy. But having a firm boundary around mealtimes and not allowing yourself to get sucked into mealtime ‘battles’ can make a huge difference, not only to your families diet, but also your sanity and sense of happiness.
My kids are great eaters. But still, they dig their heels in every now and then and more than once have gone to bed with an empty, rumbling tummy.
But I give them a hug, remind them of the choices they made them which created that hunger and reassure them that there will be a yummy, nutritious breakfast waiting for them in the morning.
And I pause, reflect and give thanks for the fact that my children are so blessed in this life to be able to experience hunger, while never having to truly fear it.
I can’t promise you that this strategy will get your little one to start becoming more adventurous with their diet, but I can promise you that by choosing not to enter into a battle with them about it will result in a far happier, less-stressed you.
If you’re worried about any aspect of your child’s diet or their relationship with food, please don’t hesitate to seek expert help. There are a number of dedicated nutritionists and child health experts who can help guide you and your family back towards the path of good health.