Mealtimes can be hectic for families and parents sometime struggle with the foods their children eat, how much they consume, and how they act at the dinner table. Parents need to be certain to create positive mealtime habits that will be long lasting for their children and avoid food battles that can be detrimental in years to come.
Young children, even toddlers, can become finicky eaters and display behavioral issues during mealtimes. Often parents will resort to demanding that their children eat certain amounts of food, and the entire meal becomes a battle of wills. If this is the situation, parents need to take a step back and review some important elements.
Parents should provide healthy meals and snacks at predictable and consistent times for their children. If a child has been eating healthy foods throughout the day and comes to the dinner table and refuses to eat, it might truly be that the child is not hungry at that point, and therefore should not be forced to eat. On the other hand, children will sometimes claim they are not hungry because they do not like what is being served. Parents can encourage children to just try with one taste of each food item, and then allow them to not eat if that is their choice. It is important then for the parent to follow through and either not allow the child to eat again until the next meal time, or to save the dinner plate and serve that food again when the child is hungry.
While many parents find it difficult to allow their children to not eat the food served and not clear their plates of their meals, it is important to remember that children will not intentionally starve themselves. If parents find that their children are consistently declining to eat supper, perhaps cutting out the afternoon snack or pushing the mealtime ahead by an hour will help adjust things enough so that the children are hungry at mealtime.
Just as it is important for parents to allow their children to determine when they are hungry and to listen to their own bodies, it is also valuable for parents to teach table manners and etiquette. There will be times when families do not have the luxury of serving a meal around the taste buds or hunger timetable of a young child. Parents can teach children to try small amounts without forcing complete servings upon them. It is also a good idea to make sure that the child understands that when it is mealtime, even if they claim they are not hungry, that it is not all right to whine, complain about the food being served, or simply leave the table. Children can be asked to sit politely while the others at the table eat their meals, perhaps even just 5 minutes for very young children.
Some children learn early on that food and mealtimes can be causes for battles over control. Parents should avoid these battles as much as possible and help create positive mealtime habits. The most important points to remember are to serve healthy food options from all food groups and establish consistent mealtimes. Encouraging children to help plan menus, create placemats, or even prepare the meals can also benefit the situation and relieve some of the mealtime tension.
Your friend and fellow parent,
Parenting Coach, Author & Speaker