If your child refuses to eat, it may be time to take the following advice from my guest poster and blog friend Dr. Orlena Kerek when it comes to dinner time battles and struggles.
I would love to tell you that my children had perfect table manners, ate everything they were given and cleared away the dishes without even being asked.
I have four kids aged 8, 6 and twins of 4. (One of them is the toddler who won’t eat anything other than bread, bread, and bread.)
As much as I’d like to tell you how perfect they are, I suspect you wouldn’t believe me.
But there is one area of conflict that is missing from our family meal table (and we eat every meal together).We don’t fight about what the kids should or shouldn’t eat.
There is no, “how do you know you don’t like it if you don’t try it?”
There is no, “you have to eat up your broccoli if you want your desert.”
There is no ‘clean plate club’ in our house.
The screeching, chattering noise comes from four young, vibrant kids who like to talk at the same time. In loud voices. And scream about not having the right coloured bowl. (We’re working on all of these things!)
So how do you stop mealtime battles?
It’s actually easy as pie. There are two critical steps you need to take.
Critical Step Number 1 to Stop Meal Time Battles
Stop pressuring your kids to eat.
It’s easy to write, less easy to do. For some reason, we’re programmed to tell our kids to eat what’s on their plate but evidence shows that pushing kids to eat can lead to eating problems later in life. Pressuring kids to eat can lead to picky eating and a bad relationship with food. We don’t want that.
Besides, pressuring your kids to eat clearly doesn’t work and is really stressful. I can feel my blood starting to boil every time we step down the rocky road of “eat your peas.”
Take a step back and look at your child’s diet a different way. Of course we want our kids to eat a healthy diet but even more importantly, we want them to learn to love healthy food and make healthy choices on their own so that when they leave home they’ll carry on eating healthy food.
So in the big scheme of things, that one carrot doesn’t matter and isn’t worth fighting over.
It’s a subtle mind shift, but if you can make it, you’ll find that mealtimes are no longer a battleground and you’ll be teaching your kids healthy eating habits.
That brings me to the next point.
Critical Step number 2 to Stop Meal Time Battles
Present your kids with healthy food.
The idea is really easy. Present them with healthy food at regular intervals. Most people eat breakfast, snack, lunch, snack and then dinner. Find a routine that works for your family and stick to it.
If you’re not sure what a healthy diet for kids is, think more fruit and vegetables. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Life is busy. Easy, quick, healthy meals are the way to go.
Remember to offer healthy food for snacks too. (A piece of fruit and a cookie rather than just cookies.) Kids are clever and will happily save themselves up for snack if they know they can fill up on junk food. Then they won’t be hungry for healthy dinner.
If your kids have been eating healthy food throughout the day, you won’t worry so much about whether or not they eat their dinner (or pick out all the bits that they like leaving the veggies unloved.)
Remind your kids that they don’t have to eat anything they don’t want to. (It may take a while for you to get your head around this idea. If so, go back to critical step number 1).
The trick is to offer foods that you know they’ll eat and to keep offering new foods that you know they won’t eat.
If You’re Feeling Overwhelmed at Meal Time with Kids
It’s not as tricky as it sounds. If you’re feeling overwhelmed I expect you’re having trouble digesting the “no pressure” bit. Let it sink in and when you’re ready have a look at your diet and the food you offer your kids.
Here are easy steps to help you:
- Stop pressuring kids to eat.
- Start a ‘food routine’. Offer food at regular intervals through out the day and end a child’s endless snacking between meals.
- Look at the food your offer and make small steps to make it more healthy. It can be difficult changing your habits but if you do it in manageable steps you’ll have much more success. One small step could be that at lunch time you start to offer some chopped up vegetables as well. Think carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, capsicum. Easy to do, tasty and healthy. Don’t worry if your kids don’t touch them. Model healthy eating by eating them yourself.
My children may be noisy and their table manners are far from perfect but we don’t have any meal time battles and even more importantly, I don’t worry about their diet as I’m confident that they eat a healthy and balanced diet and that they’re learning healthy eating habits that will follow them into adulthood.
Dr Orlena Kerek
Dr Orlena Kerek is a paediatric doctor and mother of four who believes teaching your kids to enjoy healthy eating and living can be pain free and even fun. Grab your free “Feeding Toddler Cheat Sheet and Food Diary” when you join her Snotty Noses’s community.