In my opinion fussy eaters are made. From toddlers to teenagers (and some adults too!) food can become a power play that sees parents and children do a dance around the dinner table that ends in tears.
On paper the solution is simple: you decide what and when your children eat and they decide how much.
In action the solution can bring up emotions that are best kept in check.
Frustration and anxiety are not good for digestion. If you feel anxious about your child going hungry because they don’t eat the food you have prepared for them, remind yourself that your child will eat when they are hungry – even vegetables - and because we live is a country where food is abundant, if they don’t eat one meal there will always be another one to follow. If you feel frustrated, there's no point. Sorry for not sounding more sympathetic but if you let it go and get on with enjoying your meal you are showing your child exactly what you want them to do.
Focusing and becoming anxious about individual meals and what your child did or didn’t eat is not a complete picture. Consider what your child eats over a whole day or better still a whole week.
As for the when to eat, I stick to breakfast, lunch and dinner and depending on what’s happening on the day morning and/or afternoon tea. Children’s bodies are very busy growing, morning and afternoon tea can be good times to serve some nutrient dense foods that even those who fuss at mealtimes will go for, such as a fruit smoothie or homemade dip. Grazing or snacking all day means mealtimes won’t be fun because regardless of age, a good appetite is necessary to enjoy a meal and if you and/or the children have been snacking all day who really wants dinner?
To some, what I’m about to say may sound radical or mean but it is ok for your child to go hungry. There will be another meal and they will eat.
These are my top ten 8 tips for happy meal times
- Make time for meals. Sit together. No television.
- From a young age involve children in preparing meals and hand over one meal a week to teenagers to prepare.
- Give thanks for the meal.
- Grow some of your own food even if it is only herbs, one pot of tomatoes, one pot of strawberries anything to connect your child with where real food comes from.
- Offer fruit and vegetables many times not just once. Just because little Harry didn’t eat steamed carrots the first time they were on his plate at dinner don’t write them off totally. Present them many times.
- Use peer pressure to your advantage. Often when eating in a group children will try foods they hadn’t before because their friends are eating them. This is an excellent time to present a variety of fruit and vegetables.
- Eat dinner early. This is good practice for the whole family so our bodies have time to digest before sleep. 5pm is good for toddlers and pre-schoolers, when children become tired they do not want to eat. 5pm may not be practical for teenagers or parents who are working but early as possible and if it is late then keep the meal light.
- Stay positive and don’t be pulled into negotiating. You are the parent. Telling your child ‘no’ is ok, tears are ok and feeling hungry is ok. Trust me they move through it quickly!
I’d love to hear your tips or experiences of raising happy, healthy eaters.