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Tips to Make Mealtimes Less Stressful

“You will not get dessert unless you finish your broccoli” or “You are not getting down from the table until you finish your chicken nuggets.” Do either one of these statements sound familiar to you? As a mom we just want to provide healthy, nutritious meals to our kids AND have them eat it. At times, meals can become very stressful when we are arguing with our kids to eat more or even at times to eat less. This can lead to spankings, time outs, and crying by both parent and child. Am I right??

I would like to share with you some tips to think about when you are feeling stressed out preparing multiple meals (I call this the Short Order cook syndrome) and making meal time a pleasant time for the family. This concept is called Division of Responsibility by Ellyn Statter. One of the main messages is to remember that “Children have natural ability with eating. They eat as much as they need, they grow in the way that is right for them, and they learn to eat the foods their parents eat.” There are moments that this can seem scary to let them get down from dinner and go to bed after only eating a handful of grapes, but you need to trust that you child will eat more for breakfast the next day and it will all equal out.

One area that we struggle with in our house is continuous snacking in the afternoons. Some days it feels like he wants to snack from moment he walks in the door after daycare and then not eating much at dinner. We are constantly working to help him eat more at dinner time when we sit down as a family AND eat those yummy vegetables that his Dietitian mom wants him to eat.

What you need to know:

Parents’ feeding jobs:

  • Choose what kinds of foods will be served at meal time.
  • Provide regular meals and snacks; try to avoid food or beverages between meal and snack times outside of water.

 Children’s eating jobs:

  • Children will determine how much they eat.
  • They will learn to eat the food their parents eat.

How do I put this into action?

Unless there is a very specific reason, such as allergies or being underweight, try not to make 2 dinners every night. Make one dinner with at least one food you know that your child will like. Let them determine which foods they eat and how much. Sometimes this means no dinner if they are throwing a fit at the table; then remembering later no snack as they did not eat dinner. For those of you with toddler age kids, remember: a child may need to be presented with a food possibly 15 – 20+ times before they like a new food that means many meals before they learn to eat a new food.

Do not-so-healthy foods have a place in your child’s diet?

The short answer is Yes…but only when and where you, as the parent, allow them. You might be able to keep “not-so-healthy” foods away from your toddler, but as they get older they will make their own choices when you’re not looking. Research shows that children who have strict not-so-healthy foods restricted eat more of them when they get the chance and tend to carry more weight. So be intentional with what your family considers “no-so-healthy” foods and how often you may serve those “treats.” Statter suggests serving sugar added foods only at snack time so they don’t compete with foods served at a meal time. Makes sense as I know if my son had a choice he would eat 3 cookies and pass on the chicken.

So, remember

  • that kids may need 10+ introductions to a certain food before liking it
  • try not to make more than one meal per night to decrease stressful meal times
  • you determine when, what and where (most often) your children eats

For more information about Division of Responsibility in Feeding your children check out:

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