We’ve all been there. We’ve spent considerable time making a meal we (thought, hoped, prayed) our kids would eat and they turn their noses up “I don’t like that”. Here are my top tips to avoid meal time battles. 

  • Make sure they are hungry. But not too hungry: Kids need regular meals and snacks throughout the day but if they graze all day long (even if it is just milk or juice) they won’t be hungry enough to eat when it’s ‘Meal Time’. Planning to have 3 meals and 3 snacks per day (about every 2-3 hours) gives kids enough space to feel hungry but not famished (which can lead to meltdowns and more fighting). 
  • Eat together: I know this is a tough one. With parents working later and a million activities after school it can make it difficult to coordinate. If you aren’t already, try for one meal per week and work up to one meal a few times per week. Eating together provides a time to be connected which helps children feel loved, safe and secure. It is also a time to model a healthy relationship with food and trying new foods. Kids are more likely to try a food if they see their parents eating them. There are also so many other benefits for kids eating together as a family
    • Healthier eating into adulthood, healthier body weight, lower risk of disordered eating
    • Less use of cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol
    • Better self-esteem and less depression
    • Better grade point averages and test scores
  • Set a Timer: This sounds strange I know. But give your kids a realistic expectation of the amount of time they need to sit at the table. Start with 1 minute per year of age. We have a sand timer so it is very visual. Children àre expected to sit for the amount of time but don`t need to eat. 
  • Provide familiar foods and unfamiliar foods together: Change is scary. Children tend to gravitate towards the familiar foods but this doesn’t mean you have to be a `short order cook`. When planning meals choose at least one food you know your child will like. Pasta and rice tend to be top choices at our house. This way your little one will have the option to eat that food if all else fails.
  • It`s not your job to make your kids eat: Ellen Satter, renowned feeding expert and fellow Registered Dietitian, has developed the “Division of Responsibility”. Parents are responsible for the WHAT, WHEN and WHERE and the child is responsible for HOW MUCH and WHETHER or not to eat. Fundamental to parents’ jobs is trusting children to determine how much and whether to eat from what the parents provide. When parents do their jobs with feeding, children do their jobs with eating. So if your child decides today they will only eat the bread and butter that’s fine. Don’t sweat it. Seconds of anything on the plate are always allowed. But don’t make a second meal or serve additional items (“But I want cereal for dinner`). 

What if tonight is the night that your little decides to eat nothing. Yep zero. Well then they are expected to sit for the amount of time (as above) and then take their food away once they leave the table. What if 5 minutes later they are back “But i’m hungry“ this is your chance to stand strong and remind them meal time is over and they decided not to eat. But don’t worry, their next snack is just around the corner anyways. 

Jenn Messina is a Registered Dietitian with 2 small children aged 2 and 4. She works with families and parents in North Vancouver at her office at Canopy Integrated Health or remotely via Skype or Facetime. Find out more about her here www.jennmessina.com