After a long day at work the last thing you want is a fight at the dinner table, but for many families meal time is a struggle. Just like an adult, you child’s tastes and eating habits may change with time. One would hope that this would make your life easier by expanding the foods you are able to serve to your family. What do you do then, when your adventurous eater morphs into a suppertime scaredy cat or your child is suddenly refusing once loved food, further limiting your dinner options? Here are five tips to help reduce mealtime stress for you and your kids.
- Preempt the Mealtime Struggle
By the time dinner is cooked and on the table, your child may be starving and past the point of no return. Offer a quick snack as you cook or travel home from school, but with your child’s health in mind. Sliced fruits and veggies, a handful of nuts, or a small cheese stick will all satiate your child’s hunger and mellow their mood so that the actual meal time can be enjoyed by all. Plus it’s easier to let go of mealtime worry when you know your child recently had a health snack.
- Balance Your Offerings
If you plan to cook something new that you know may not go over so well with the younger crowd, be sure to have something else on the plate that you know they will enjoy. Don’t offer a plate of all new foods at once. This way your child has a familiar favorite to fall back on. Plus, if he has something he actually likes to munch on at the table, you may even get a few minutes of calm to connect with your spouse and other children.
- Try a New Presentation
Make mealtime an experience by serving up food in a new way: all finger foods, veggies in the shape of a face, a variety of dipping sauces, a picnic on the living room floor. Making the meal about the experience and not just about the food may be the distraction your child needs to try what’s on the plate.
- Discuss Your Expectation
It is acceptable for there to be a family “rule” when it comes to mealtime. Discuss the difference between “trying” a food (taking just a bite or two) and “eating” a food (finishing the whole portion) with your older children. Let children know (at a time other than dinnertime when the plate is staring them down) that at your house everyone must “try” new foods but the decision to “eat” lies with the individual. This allows your child to have some ownership over their plate and their eating, but still allows you to expose them to new tastes and offerings. Then, instead of fighting about the food on the plate you can fall back on your go-to statement (in your calmest, most uninterested, I-am-not-going-head-to-head-with-you today voice), “you don’t have to eat it, you just have to try it.”
- Surrender the Struggle
For the majority of children, struggles related to food and eating are a part of normal development. Toddlers suddenly realize they have control over their own bodies, preschoolers need routine and will strive for similarity at all costs, and elementary kids begin the process of detaching from mom and dad. Letting go of the need to control your child’s intake will lessen the tension between you and your child and will hopefully reduce the stress you feel at mealtime. Remember that your child is a whole person and their mealtime needs are a small part of their overall individual development.
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