Is mealtime a battle in your home? Do you get to talk about what everyone did during their day, or do you have to bribe your kids to eat? Is the culinary masterpiece you slaved over being referred to as disgusting or gross? Are you ready to throw in the towel and never cook for your kids again because of your child's discriminating tastes?
I think we can all relate to picky eaters and mealtime meltdowns. Here are a few strategies that may help to lessen the battles that surround mealtime in your home.
1. No Labels
Do not label your kids eating habits (or any behavior) unless you want it to become a problem. Saying your kid is a “picky eater” or saying “they will only eat mac-n-cheese” or saying “they won’t eat that” only ensures that statement. By saying these things, you are reinforcing those statements because children own the labels you give them. By labeling your child's behavior, you are giving them permission to continue that behavior. If you continue to do this you are robbing your child of the chance to be introduced to, accept and enjoy new foods. The same can be said for good labels. If you label one child as “the good eater” their sibling may assume they are “the bad eater” which sets them up for sibling rivalry. Labels, positive or negative, should be avoided.
2. Take control of your pantry
Getting kids to make healthy food choices can be challenging but remember that you are the one who buys the food that is in your house. Of course, they will enjoy a cupcake at a birthday party or snack at the movie theater occasionally – but they eat the majority of their food at home, and you are the one that provides that food. If they are eating too much junk food and drinking too many soft drinks, then get rid of them. Remove the bad things from your pantry and fridge. If all you have to offer is healthy foods. Then healthy foods are what they will want to eat. If your kids still don’t want to eat what’s on their plates at mealtime, then you need to limit their access to the pantry and fridge when it is close to mealtime. Remember, you can not control what your child puts in their mouth, but you can control the options they have to choose from.
3. No dinnertime battles
How much and what kids eat should not be a debate every night. Your job as a parent is to provide a healthy meal for your child. If you can get your child to eat one healthy thing a night, then you have done your job. Provide the meal to your child and let them take it or leave it.
Do not give them any power at mealtime. Do not try to get them to take just one bite or clean their plate. Remove the food struggle. If there is nothing to fight about at mealtime, then everyone can enjoy what they want to eat.
4. Food is not a reward
Food should not be a bargaining chip for good behavior or finishing your meal. If the “good stuff” is offered for choking down the foods they hate, the “good stuff” becomes what they crave. This also does not promote good eating habits. We want our children to enjoy healthy foods, not choke them down to have sweets after. Sweets should not be offered as a reward for any type of behavior. Offering them something that is not healthy for them as a reward for doing something good doesn’t make any sense and promotes bad habits.
Challenge yourself to make something different for lunch and dinner every day of the week. By doing this your child will look forward to seeing what they are having instead of dreading that they are having the same meal every time they open their lunchbox or sit down to dinner. This will get them out of the habit of expecting certain things every time they sit down to eat.
Allowing your kids to have choices in what they are eating gives them a sense of control over what they eat. For instance, you could ask them if they want an apple or a banana with their breakfast. Do they want cheese sticks or carrot sticks in their lunch. Would they like a granola bar or crackers for a snack. Do they want milk or water with their dinner. If you give your child the power to choose, they will be more agreeable in situations they don’t have a choice in.
7. Keep trying
Just because your child did not like a food because of a bad experience doesn’t mean they will never like it. Kids tastebuds change constantly, so let them know that just because they didn’t like something one day does not mean they will never like it. Encourage them to keep trying and tasting things because they might find that one day, they like it.
8. Get everyone involved
Meals are always more enjoyable when everyone is involved. Setting the table, prepping the food, choosing what to make – if everyone is involved in the process, they are less likely to complain about the finished product. Families should all eat together as much as possible. Mealtime should be focused more on being together than what they are eating. Eating meals should be more about sharing experiences about the day and engaging with family and less about fighting over who is or isn’t eating what’s on their plate.