Do you struggle to get kids to eat?
I knew from very early on, I didn’t want to be that parent who made separate meals for fussy eaters. Up until about six months ago, I was patting myself on the back for a job well done. My twins were great eaters. They had a varied diet, didn’t complain about veg and generally mealtimes were drama free.
Then something changed. I really don’t know what but suddenly dinner time became a battleground. Jessica decided she didn’t like things she’s previously devoured and Emily’s eating slowed down to a snail pace. It didn’t take long before bad habits started to creep in. Sometimes we try so hard to get kids to eat but the more we push the more resistant they become..
Time for a new strategy
In our case, I was able to take a step back and realise that our attitude to their eating was actually doing more harm than good. We made a few small changes and I’m happy to report that, on the whole, we are back on track and mealtimes are calmer.
How to get kids to eat
What We Did:
This sounds so formal but all it really involved was a family chat when everyone was in a good mood. We told them we weren’t happy with how mealtimes were going and we wanted to see if we could sort it out together. Next, we explained why it was important that they ate as they needed the energy for lots of playing.
We then asked them to choose meals they liked that we could cook for the following week. Even old favourites weren’t being eaten. By giving them some say in the family dinners, we hoped they’d be more inclined to eat them.
I realised the size of the portion I was giving them was quite overwhelming. Instead, I opted to give a much smaller amount initially then they could ask for more if they wanted to. I started with just under half of my adult portion.
We told the girls that we didn’t expect them to eat everything on their plate but that we wanted them to try at least one decent mouthful of each item. If they then said they didn’t like it, we didn’t push it. This doesn’t mean we didn’t offer it again a week or so later but again they just had to try one bite.
Modelling Good Habits
We made a point of talking about the food we like, the ones we aren’t so keen on and those we really dislike. I think it’s important when trying to get kids to eat, that they understand that eating a balanced and varied diet is more important than just eating only the foods we love.
No Other Option
As harsh as it might sound, we weren’t going to start making separate meals. The girls have known all along that the food in front of them is all that is on offer. If they really dig their heels in and refuse to eat, they will just go to bed hungry.
We knew we needed to get back on track and so, after planning the family meals, we made a conscious effort to make mealtime more successful and calmer. For one week, we cut out snacks altogether. I made a big point of getting the girls to empty our snack station into big bags and then put all the snacks away.
For the first week, we also offered a very small incentive to eat. We set a timer on our oven for 30 minutes and said if they had eaten the majority of the food on their plate they could have a chocolate coin. We placed this in front of their plate.
The hardest part was resisting the urge to badger and cajole them to eat. This was something we’d gotten particularly bad at. We made conversation and talked about something else. They both knew what was expected and other than giving a half time reminder, I wanted to put the onus on them.
When the buzzer went off, which was often 10-15 minutes after Stu and I had finished eating, one of us just got up and cleared the plates. For the first few days, there were tears as they realised they’d run out of time. But, by the end of the week, they were both getting their coin and we hadn’t needed to push them to do it.
A Week Later…
After the seven days, we took away the buzzer and coins and returned the snacks. It was exactly what we needed to reset the negative pattern that had begun over meals.
Don’t be fooled into believing they are angels at mealtimes. Of course, we still have resistance to new foods and they don’t clear their plates every day. But, they do eat without much complaining and they eat what we are eating rather than the beige freezer food it would be easy to offer instead.
Are your little ones good eaters? Or do you need help to get kids to eat?