What you’re about to read isn’t about the latest superfood or a strategy for picky eaters. It’s about how to help children develop a good relationship, with food. Yes, the dietitian without children CAN handle this one.
Trust me- read on.
First off, to totally master the art of feeding children (well) you need to be confident in your choices. No, this isn’t a trick, you’re the parent/guardian and you probably know what’s best for the kid, so own it. You’ve got this! Be confident, it’ll help shape mealtimes into a more ‘peaceful’ experience.
1. Be confident. Feeling confident about what you’re feeding children can help to foster a healthy relationship with food for your child.
2. If you’re unsure ask for help. Start with people you trust or professionals in the field that you have questions (Registered dietitians, cooks, chefs, home economists, other parents, and friends).
3. The role of the parent is to decide what to purchase and prepare, when to offer it and where to offer it. The role of the child is to decide if they’re going to eat and how much to eat.
3. If you can’t afford it, ask for help.
Listen, I know swallowing your pride is harder than swallowing a brussels sprout… And yes, there is supposed to be an ‘s’ on the end of brussels.
There are various community programs and food banks if you need help with feeding your family. Try discussing the matter with a community health navigator like a family doctor, public health nurse, social worker or dietitian so that the right resources for your family can be lined up.
Children learn how to balance eating and conversation at mealtimes by watching, engaging and participating so create the mealtime experience that you want your child to have.
So you’re feeling pretty confident about what you’re feeding your kids and you want another serving?
I’ve created a menu of other options that over the years I’ve successfully shared with clients on how to modify mealtimes with their kids. Think of them as individual options, they’re not all for everyone but some may provide insight as to where the feeding opportunities are in your family.
- Teach children the difference between everyday food and the treats that are for sometimes. Sweets and treats are delicious and in my opinion an important part of life. I remember coming home from school to the surprise that my mom had made chocolate chip cookies! Those are great memories and are part of a normal healthy lifestyle. Food is not just a necessity for life, it also brings people pleasure and this is ok, teach children from a young age that food isn’t a reward, it’s something we enjoy and it’s ok to sometimes have a treat.
- Teach your children how to have a good relationship with food by letting them ask questions about the food and giving them honest answers. Teach them to think about their food and where it comes from. Talk about how the food looks, what it smells like, what it feels like.
- Let your children explore the kitchen and the food in it with an open mind. Let them make a mess sometimes.
- Try to remove ‘yucky’ and ‘gross’ from your food vocabulary. If children want to express that they don’t enjoy something ask them about it. What don’t they like?
- The less stress and pressure kids sense at meals the better. As often as possible, meals should be about eating tasty foods, talking to each other and enjoying time together.
- Minimize bribing, coaxing, pressure to eat and punishments during meals. You’re halfway done eating your burger and you stop to take a break and discuss your day with your partner, when they turn to you and make eye contact. “If you don’t finish that burger I’m canceling date night next week”. You have a few bites of vegetables and attempt the conversation again. “Please just finish your burger and then you can eat dessert”. We don’t speak to each other like this at meals so why speak to children like that? Create the mealtime experience you want your children to have; Children learn how to balance eating and conversation at mealtimes by watching, engaging and participating.
- Listen to your kid, they have small bellies. If they say that they aren’t hungry you should listen to them.
- Turn the TV, cell phones, computers, and tablets off during meals. Distractions make it harder for children to focus on the meal in front of them.
- Repetition and persistence will prevail. This goes for new mealtime experiences and new foods.
- Keep, prepare and cook the foods that you want your child to eat.
- Just because a baby spits it out doesn’t mean they don’t like it.
- Serve friendly foods with foes. You know what your kids LOVE to eat so serve these foods when you’re offering new foods or previously rejected foods.
- Make one meal for the whole family, this allows for everyone to eat together and everyone to eat the same thing. It’s just as important for children to see others eating all types of foods as it is for them to eat them.
- Consider asking your children to remain at the table until everyone finishes. If kids are used to being allowed to get up and play during meals they’re going to want to continue to do so. You might want to start with waiting 1-3 minutes after they finish eating and slowly increase their mealtime stamina as you see fit.
The foundation of this post was built upon one goal, to help people talk about food and to get them into the kitchen.
I believe that as a societal whole we need to encourage children to cook and it’s our duty to help them build a healthy relationship with food. This post originated from helping one individual to prepare meals for their child. Self-confidence was our initial barrier, not cooking skills but the lack of confidence in their skills.
Parents, you’re doing a great job. Be confident in what you’re preparing for your kids.