Have you struggled with tears at dinnertime? “But I HATE broccoli!” comments or kiddos only wanting mac and cheese for dinner, every – single – night?
Not only do I hear it all of the time, but I see it all of the time. Parents struggle trying to get their children to accept fruits, veggies, whole grains, and proteins and often succumb to the battle to offering them the comforting staples that they demand. Having two kiddos of my own (and one on the way) I also find myself needing some support trying to manage a limited palate. Before you put your short-order cook hat on and throw in the towel, we’ve got a few tips to help you make mealtime a more manageable experience.
4 Tips for Positive Mealtimes
Offer Two Choices
Now I don’t mean let your child be in charge of what’s for dinner every night, but kids love choices. Offering a this versus that option as opposed to “do you want broccoli for dinner?” Allow them to choose the salad dressing, or which type of grain you serve (rice, pasta, macaroni, and cheese?). Another fun choice could be choosing one color they want to see on their plate. Purple? Purple potatoes it is! Blueberries? Add some to the salad! Green? Well, you know what to do…
Enlist your little helpers to be a part of creating the meal
Have them help make a choice about the food served. Have them help set the table, mix the salad (with assistance!), ask everyone what they would like to drink. Kids love to help! Empower them!
Play a game or ask happy questions
You don’t want to throw monopoly on the table when you’re trying to enjoy your meal, but taking a few minutes to play a fun game can lighten up the mood and take away some of the stress of the day. Play a quick game of telephone, I Spy, the alphabet game (everyone names a state or animal or color for each letter of the alphabet). Or, start the meal off with a happy question. Some examples include “what was everyone’s favorite part of their day?” “What would be your dream vacation?” “If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?” This will set the tone for a more positive mealtime experience.
Lead by example
Is your child observing you trying new foods, getting in your calcium, and enjoying your fruits and veggies? Are they observing you honoring your hunger and fullness? Are they hearing diet talk? Kids are sponges. They pick up on everything we say and do: If my parents aren’t eating veggies, they must not taste that good OR be that important. Your child is much more likely to expand his/her palate if he/she sees the whole family doing the same. Children also (usually) respond to rules if they’re enforced. When I say rules, I’m not talking about “clean your plate” or “you can only eat fruit or veggies as a snack” rules – you can throw those away. I’m talking about rules and routines that apply to the whole family: consistent meal times, trying new foods, everyone eating together… If these routines are clear and consistent your child will know what to expect and this will become the norm.
Helping your child build a positive foundation with food can help them grow into a healthy eater. Children are born to have a peaceful relationship with food. Let’s help them to keep it that way!