Peaceful Dinners & Picky EatersApr 27, 2023
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Are you struggling with picky eaters at your dinner table? Do you find yourself making separate meals for yourself and your kids? As a parent, mealtime can be stressful, especially if your kids refuse to eat the food you serve them.
Mealtime can be more enjoyable for everyone - including you.
On this episode of Become A Calm Mama, we’ll explore why some kids are picky eaters, while others are not and common struggles and mistakes when it comes to feeding your kids. I’ll also share strategies for transitioning into dinnertime and for encouraging kids to try new foods and become healthy, well-rounded eaters.
The fact is, you can’t make your child eat. This is the same idea with any sort of behavior. Our kids will make their own choices. So what part of this equation is under your control?
As the parent, you are responsible for providing food and deciding what food will be available, when and where. You provide access to food and the opportunity for them to eat.
You are the leader. You can certainly be considerate of other family members’ likes and dislikes, but you ultimately decide what foods are available.
Your child is responsible for whether they eat and how much.
Creating Peaceful Family Dinners
Having your kids constantly say things like, “I don’t like that”, “I don’t want to eat that”, “That’s not what I asked for” can wear you down.
If you want to make one meal, sit down as a family and have everyone eat the same thing, start with the family table.
The Family Table
The family table is not just about getting fed; it's also about social, emotional, and cultural values regarding food. It’s about sharing, connecting with others and creating memories.
Serving food on platters instead of plating it can strengthen the family table. Think family-style rather than single-plate restaurant-style. This allows each person at the table to decide for themselves what they want to eat and how much. Your child feels a sense of control over what and how much they’re eating.
As usual, your state of mind plays a huge role here, too. When your feelings about your child’s eating habits are more neutral, it creates more emotional freedom for your child. It becomes less charged and they will be able to follow their own cues and learn to eat for themselves more easily.
Getting Kids to the Table
One of the biggest challenges parents face is the transition from playtime to mealtime. Kids may not want to stop playing and sit down to eat, which can lead to behavior issues at the table.
I really like to involve children in setting the table, filling up water cups or other simple tasks to help them transition into the expectations of mealtime.
This often works even better when you give kids a choice between setting the table now or in five minutes. It requires them to think and make a decision and gives the brain time to shift into the new activity.
Limits for Peaceful Dinners
Practicing Good Manners
No mom wants to hear that the dinner she prepared is “disgusting”, so we can set limits around how our kids express their preferences.
For example, “It’s okay to not want to eat something. You can say ‘No, thank you’ and choose something else from the table.”
Sitting at the family table
This ties into a limit of when food is available. Maybe when they leave the table, that’s it for the night. Or maybe you include a small before-bed snack in your evening routine.
You can also set a limit around how long they are expected to stay at the table. I love using a candle to signify the beginning and end of family dinnertime.
I want you to know that it’s okay for your child to feel a little hungry sometimes. This is a big way to learn that it’s good to eat when food is available.
You can set limits or rules around behaviors or other things that might be disruptive during dinner. No toys at the table was one of my rules when the boys were younger.
Other limits might look like, You are welcome to sit at the table, as long as…
- Your bottom is on the chair
- You’re using your fork
- There is no fighting at the table
- There are no problems at dinner
Strategies for Picky Eaters
Here’s what I know: If you always serve a separate meal to the picky eater, they won’t have the opportunity to grow and become a more adventurous eater.
I think of this as consider, don’t cater. You can always have something on the table that your picky eater will like, while still making them a part of what is available to everybody.
Children will learn to like new food by seeing it on the table again and again. Kids are naturally inquisitive, and when they are exposed to a lot of different foods, they tend to become less picky.
You can even start with a single food that you want them to grow into eating. Plan to have this food on the table consistently and serve it up on a family-style platter.
Encourage them to explore it. They don’t have to eat it, but maybe they can put it on their plate, pick it up, touch it to their mouth, etc. They’re getting used to it little by little.
Another strategy is to have your child create a “never ever” list. What foods would they never ever want to try?
The idea is to give them a sense of control over what they eat, while continuing to expose them to new foods and giving them the opportunity to try them.
One of my sons was a very picky eater. I tried a lot of approaches that didn’t work, and I felt like a failure. There was so much anxiety around this issue for me, and I often felt mad, frustrated or afraid that he would be unhealthy, underweight and not socially accepted.
Ultimately, I decided that our relationship was more important than his diet. I decided that my goal was just to get enough calories in him. I redefined what success looked like for me in that situation.
If you have a really picky eater, I challenge you to become more neutral about it and find a little more trust that it will work out. Eventually, your kid is going to figure out how to eat.
You can decide that your job is to give access and opportunity and the rest is up to your kid.
- What you are and aren’t responsible for when it comes to feeding your kid
- How to create a more peaceful and pleasant mealtime experience
- Tips for getting your picky eater to try new foods
- When to seek help for your child’s picky eating
Connect With Darlynn:
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