Another common battleground for parents with young children is mealtime. Getting kids to eat their proverbial veggies has been a vexing problem since time immemorial. Just as we noted with bedtime, it’s unlikely you will ever have children who are 100% compliant with your wishes 100% of the time. Nevertheless, there are certain steps you can take to make mealtimes easier and more pleasant for all involved.
Lower Your Expectations
Sometimes the frustration parents experience at mealtime is simply a product of expectations that are too high. A two-year-old is not going to remain spotlessly clean throughout the meal. A five-year-old (particularly an energetic one) is unlikely to remain seated for 30 minutes straight. If you are demanding that your child exhibit behaviors above what is realistic for their age/maturity level, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Much better would be to start small and slowly increase your requirements as your children mature. Be prepared to change your young children’s clothes after mealtime; keep dinner short, or at least the portion you expect the kids to sit for. Also, keep in mind what your goals are. Avoiding an extra load of toddler laundry probably shouldn’t be your life’s mission; creating a family environment that is happy and loving is in all likelihood higher on your priority list. If so, then perhaps accepting a little mess is worth your while.
One common point of stress is where the parent insists on the child eating this-that-or-the other, or some specified amount of it. Obviously, we as parents are responsible for our children’s health and nutrition. Allowing a child to skip dinner and go right to dessert isn’t in the cards. At the same time, there are many foods that county as healthy choices, not just what you think they should eat. A slice of bread with cottage cheese is no better or worse a meal than the tuna casserole you made.
Furthermore, the idea that you have to get your child to eat is probably overrated to begin with. No child is going to intentionally fail to eat so consistently that they starve to death. If you believe your child is not eating enough or not getting the nutrition s/he needs, talk to your pediatrician. If the doc says your kid is healthy and well-nourished, sit back and chill out. If you let nature take its course, eventually they will get hungry enough that they will want to eat. Now, if your kids can tuck into the junk food whenever they get the munchies, you may indeed have a fight on your hands trying to get them to eat real food instead. However, if there is no junk food in the house, your child will eventually eat the healthy stuff. Get the picture? Again, this is probably a choice you’ll have to make – do you need your junk food also, or do you prefer to go without in favor of happy and healthy children? (Obviously, it’s not as black-and-white as yes, I will have junk food in my house, or no, I won’t have any. It’s a balance you have to strike.)
Insisting a child eat when they aren’t hungry simply doesn’t work. So, as long as they’re in medically sound condition, leave it be and don’t force the issue. You’ll still have a healthy kid and you’ll have fewer arguments to boot!
Make it fun
Presentation can make a big difference. Children may not be interested in eating a nicely tossed green salad, but are likely to much more intrigued by a Veggie Man on their plate – you know, carrot stick legs, grape tomato eyes – you can get creative here. Even better is if you get your kids involved in the production themselves. Give them the raw materials – cut-up vegetables in various shapes – and let them design the scene, then eat it up.
Kids can also be involved in the food preparation process from quite a young age. Even a two-year old can stir a pot of something (and usually they love to do it!). Not all children will be into this, but for those that are, being a part of the meal prep makes them more likely to sit down and eat it afterwards.
These are a few tips to help you change the dynamics around mealtime. If you need more help getting things under control, feel free to reach out and let us know how we can help!