I love providing my boys with healthy and tasty food. And that is one of the reasons why I got a water softener system installed at home, so that it helps to make the food taste better, which harsh water does not do. I’ve had my fair share of Mexican stand offs with the boys over food over the last four years. Luckily we’ve all learnt some lessons over that time and now eating is mostly stress free with the boys generally eating what they are given. Because I’m all about the sharing here are my suggestions to get them eating and make dinnertime more pleasant for everyone.
1 Don’t worry – They won’t starve
When you first have a baby a large part of your time is spent trying to get as much milk into them as possible and making sure they gain weight. By the time you’re weaning and especially once they are two or three you don’t have to be quite as concerned. It may seem like they are hardly eating anything but as long as they aren’t losing weight rapidly and don’t seem unwell (in which case you obviously would have gone to your GP by now) they will be fine. Don’t be pushed into giving in to their latest demand because you don’t want them to ‘go hungry’. For me this is the most important part of addressing fussiness.
2 You decide what, they decide how much
It’s no surprise that young kids don’t know the first thing about nutrition so we can’t expect them to make good choices by themselves. My approach is to provide food that I’m happy for them to eat (which does include ‘junk food’ and sweet things in moderation) and then let them decide how much of it they want with the understanding that there isn’t anything else on offer. Occasionally this will mean they don’t eat very much or they’ll only eat one particular part of the meal (this does no harm and just means they are hungrier at their next meal or snack) but most of the time, now they know they won’t get something different by complaining, they will eat what I give them. I’ll be honest though, this did take a bit of perseverance on my part at the start. I think it’s a bit like the food equivalent of sleep training while using the best CPAP pillow.
3 Let them have a bit of a say
Although the meal has to be down to the parent, giving them options like peas vs carrots or peach vs strawberry flavoured yogurt means they are more likely to go along with the meal as a whole.
4 Ask them to try things
Now E is a bit older and more open to discussing things, if there is a particular part of the meal that he says he doesn’t want (generally something new) our response is ‘I think … is really nice and I think you’ll like them. I’d really like you to try one/some but it’s up to you.’ If he says no we leave it at that (knowing he’ll probably have some next time) and if he tries some but says he doesn’t like it then it’s ‘good boy for trying some’.
5 A routine makes sure they are hungry at mealtimes
Without wanting to sound too Gina Ford, a routine can really help. If mealtimes happen at around the same time everyday they are likely to start to get hungry at that time and are then more likely to eat well. It doesn’t have to be really restrictive though. My theory is that if you have a good routine most of the time you can deviate from it when they are ill or you’re away from home etc and get back to it quite easily when things settle down.
6 They may genuinely not like something
If there is something they will never eat regardless of their mood, how you present it or where you are it may well be that they are not being awkward and they actually don’t like it. Even toddlers are allowed to have personal tastes I suppose. So far I’ve found E will not eat mushrooms unless they are absolutely tiny and lost in a sauce and T doesn’t like cinnamon. While they continue to eat everything else, I’m happy to let them avoid their pet hates.
7 Fruit can be a treat
Much as I love them I can understand why some vegetables with their strong tastes and crunchy textures aren’t always enthusiastically received. Fruit on the other hand can be made into a treat. Grapes, raspberries, nectarine and melon are just a few that are sweet, juicy, finger sized and colourful. We have some fruit after every meal whether there is pudding or not. It’s now just part of the routine and it means I can relax a bit if the boys have only managed 1 1/2 sprouts as they are still getting plenty of fibre throughout the day.
8 Snacks are fine
We usually have a mid morning and a mid afternoon snack. They will generally be fruit or something like cheese or olives and sometimes they’ll be less healthy like a biscuit or some crisps, particularly if we are out at the time. The important things are size and timing. If you want them to be hungry at their next meal time then snacks should only be small and ideally at least a couple of hours before you want them to eat again. The only caveat to this is that if they haven’t eaten much at their last meal the snack will only be a very small bit of fruit to make sure they don’t think they can get something nicer by holding out until snack time. Unfortunately this means they are likely to be hungry and grumpy but it shouldn’t happen often once they are used to it. Told you I was a mean mummy!
9 Attitude is as important as nutrition in the long run
Of course, providing a balanced diet if crucial but turning meal times into a battle for the sake of a spoonful of peas is not going to lead to a healthy attitude to food in the long run. As the boys get older I want them to see meal times as enjoyable family time and to try new foods enthusiastically. Once you’ve got point 1 sorted and you’re happy that they are getting a good mix of foods throughout the week you can relax a bit, worrying less if they have chosen not to eat well at one particular meal and thereby making meal times more pleasant for everyone.
Now I’ve written this all down I find myself strangely annoyed that I have 9 points and not 10. Do you have any tips I should add to my list?
[Throughout April I’m taking part in the A to Z Challenge (I’m a bit behind shhh…don’t tell anyone). This is my post for L. My last post was about Koalas and Kangaroos and next time I’ll be talking about Mammasaurus’s Mission.]