Meal times can be a stressful experience with young children. Give your child peas instead of corn and the emotion that surfaces is quite a spectacle. The power battles are endless. Who would have thought food could cause such distress? Before having children I never imagined getting them to eat a variety of nutritious and delicious food would be such an effort, and often an ordeal.
Children quickly learn that food is the easiest area for them to get control, as well as attention. I find it impossible to keep each of my three daughters happy. What one eats, the other rejects and at least one child is usually in tears at dinnertime. Miss H eyes the food I present to her suspiciously as though a fatal poisoning is about to take place. Anything she doesn’t like the look of is thrown to the floor with contempt.
Having 3 kids in less than 3 years has meant there are many things I have let go through to the keeper. Food control is one of them. I have simply been too busy, too tired and too pressured to engage in the power battles. Let’s just say there have been long periods in which vegetables have been an elusive part of their diet.
But recently, fed up with the negotiations and whining I decided enough was enough. Things had to change. I didn’t want fussy eaters anymore. And I wanted meal times to be more enjoyable. Here are 4 things that have made meal times more harmonious at our place, and resulted in cleaner plates and more smiles.
1. Eating together and one meal for everyone
Up until 6 months ago I was foolishly cooking 3 different meals for dinner: a plain, basic meal for Miss H, a slightly more adventurous variation for Miss A and Miss J, and an entirely separate meal for hubby and I to have, in peace, after they were in bed. CRAZY! I was shackled to the kitchen for hours and by the time it got to our dinner I had lost interest in eating altogether.
Now I cook one meal and everyone is expected to eat it. We all sit down to dinner together as a family. Dinner is served at 6 on the dot, enabling hubby just enough time to walk in the door and help me serve up. It means that we are eating less interesting food (spice and flavour are opt ins) but the results have been worth it. The girls are definitely more inclined to try new things if they see their parents are eating it too.
2. Setting the mood (almost sounds romantic)
Half an hour before dinner I blast a “Tidy Up” song! The volume is loud and each day someone gets to choose the tune. Amazingly this simple practice has resulted in a tidy family room floor in minutes. The girls shriek with delight as they frantically dance around the room picking up the hundreds of blocks, puzzle pieces and toys littered across it. It signals that playtime is over and dinner is on the way.
3. Helping set the table
Until recently my kids didn’t really have any ‘chores’ as such and I’ve never been very good at maintaining rewards charts. But I’ve set a few simple chores for the elder two and all of them help me set the table for dinner. Even Miss H carries the cutlery from the kitchen to the table and dumps it on the very edge of the table. Dutifully Miss A then rearranges it all ensuring everyone has the correct knife and fork. I’ve also started giving Miss and Miss J “grown up” bowls and even this simple acknowledgment has made a big difference to their excitement about dinner and the quantities consumed.
4. Placemats/Serving bowls
I credit Nathalie from Easy Peasy Kids with this great suggestion. I bought a cheap laminator from Officeworks and we now transform all their artwork into placemats and each night they choose one for the meal. They have a different placemat for every night of the week. Trust me, this really works so try it! You’ll be amazed to see just how excited they get about eating off something that they have produced with pride. You can also laminate pictures of vegetables and get them to name the vegies, or print and laminate photos ….they love a placemat of themselves!
Presenting the food in bowls on the table and allowing them to serve themselves has also resulted in more food being consumed. I bought some mini tongs from the $2 shop and the girls enjoy choosing the food and serving it up. It can be a little messier but it’s fun and it really has made a difference.
I won’t go so far as to say that dinnertime is peaceful (the interruptions are endless) but since adopting these small changes I have seen a huge improvement in the girls’ appetites and enjoyment of food. I won’t classify them as “foodies” just yet but I can be slightly more adventurous with food now!
Do you find meal times stressful? Do you cook a separate meal for the kids or do you eat all together? Advice and tips for fussy eaters welcome!