I recently delivered a presentation to a group of parents with young children on ‘mealtime mania’–the name says it all. Parents were worried that their toddlers were not eating enough, were refusing to try new foods, or were a picky eater. There are many tips on helping toddlers and preschoolers eat well, but I wanted to share one simple tip that really worked for me.
I too struggled at mealtimes with my kids. What should be an enjoyable family experience became something I dreaded, usually ending in a power struggle. That being said, I didn’t repeat how I was raised, telling my kids “You’re not leaving the table until you clean your plate.” But I did hover over them as they ate, carefully watching what their next bite would be. This often ended with them refusing to eat, only eating one thing on their plate, or having a complete meltdown.
So what was my ‘ah-ha’ moment? It was one day when picking up my son from daycare, I noticed him happily eating his broccoli. When I asked the ECE how she got him to eat his vegetables, she said “He’s a really good eater–all on his own”. It was then that I realized I was the problem! Could I be contributing to the ‘mealtime mania’ in our home? It made me think about my own behaviour and the effect it was having on my kids.
I decided to try a new approach: Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding. The idea is that both the parent and child have a responsibility when it comes to feeding.
The biggest hurdle for me in using this approach was learning to trust that my children could determine how much and whether to eat from what I provided. Easier said than done!
My strategy looked like this:
- I prepared one meal (I stopped being a short -order cook).
- I served at least one food I knew my children would like (usually bread or pasta).
- I put small portions of food on their plate, and let them know they could have more if they liked.
- I didn’t discuss their eating habits, and when they were ‘done’, I took their plate away with no comments.
- I sat with them while they ate (this made a big difference) and I tried to be a good role model with my own eating.
- I did my best to make mealtime as relaxed and pleasant as possible.
This simple change in our approach to feeding had amazing results. The children were less picky, were willing to try new foods, and we eliminated the mealtime power struggles. Although they’re not perfect eaters, they have grown into healthy, happy teens.
Do you have suggestions on how to make mealtime more enjoyable? Please share! There are a number of ways you can reach us:
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For parenting information or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.
About this guest blogger:
Maureen Harris is a public health nurse at Halton Region, she has over 25 years of nursing experience in a variety of settings. For the past 12 years she has worked on the preschool team. She is an accredited Triple P and Nobody’s Perfect facilitator, and enjoys working with families in her community. She is a mother of three children.
We also use this approach. I grew up with family meal times being relaxed and a central part of the day where we connected with each other. I’d like that for my own family, especially as the kids get older. The only thing I’d add to the list above is that once a week everyone gets one of their favourite meals. It helps to have something to look forward to. The boys know that pasta and tacos are not my favourite foods but I eat them on those nights just like I expect them to eat roast beef, fish, etc.
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