Reducing Meal Time Battles

Feeding reluctant eaters can be exhausting and believe me, there are no magic tricks or techniques, however, the following tips may just help to reduce the mealtime battles.

  1. Try a pre-dinner walk or get kids actively playing outside before dinner to increase appetite.
  2. Involve the children in decision making and cooking. Family mealtimes can be used to plan meals ahead. Children are more likely to eat when there is some investment in or ownership of the meal.
  3. Keep the atmosphere pleasant. Take the focus off the food and make the family meal about spending time together.
  4. Practice what you teach, it can be surprising what children will eat while participating in an interesting conversation or whilst observing what you do.
  5. The parent’s role is to decide what to eat and to set the rules and expectations for behaviour at mealtimes. Children should be responsible for deciding how much to eat. Appetites vary and children need to be allowed to eat according to their appetite.
  6. Encourage them to ‘Eat a Rainbow’ for example get them to try something from every colour before they finish.
  7. Stay calm! I know this can be difficult to do, however getting angry, making threats, using bribes and jumping up and down usually does very little to encourage better eating, other than providing an entertaining show for the kids. In most circumstances, the best response is to simply take the food away and try again another time.
  8. Don’t take it personally! I understand that you might be upset if you have spent hours preparing and cooking a meal you think they will like, only to have it thrown back in your face. They are not trying to upset you personally, food is the one thing they have control over, you getting upset, just gives them more control.
  9. Try not to substitute food. If you cook something new and your child doesn’t like it, don’t give them something else to eat. It can take up to 11 times for new food to be accepted, even longer for some children. Children quickly learn that if they don’t eat their meal they will be given a better-tasting alternative.
  10. Large serves can be off-putting. Children have very good appetite controls so start with small serves, you can always serve more later on if they are still hungry.
  11. Give children the chance to become hungry. Snacks are important, however, too many snacks eaten close to dinner can blunt their appetites.
  12. Consider food provided at child care facilities. If a hearty snack is served late in the afternoon then a smaller snack at home may be more appropriate. In addition, if they are tired after a full day of daycare and have had a big lunch, then a smaller, lighter dinner may be all they need.

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