Dinner time doesn't have to be a battle

Food refusal can be a way for a child to demonstrate their independence and gain some control over their parents. If WWIII tends to break out at your dinner table remain calm and in control by following a few tips or strategies...

1. DON’T WORRY AND GO WITH THE FLOW

If your child insists on peanut butter every night, allow them to have it as well as what you have prepared for the rest of the family. They will soon tire of the peanut butter and make other choices, particularly when they’re consistently offered additional options.

Don’t become the short order cook and make several separate meals for each family member. Your child may need to trial a food ten or more times before they accept and enjoy it.

Don’t stress if they take a bite and remove it, because you can always offer the food at a later time when they will be most hungry. Strong flavoured foods such a broccoli, may taste bitter to your kids, so don’t be too concerned if they don’t like it. Their taste buds will continue to develop like ours did - we all have stories of foods we disliked as children and now enjoy.

Let them be involved in meal preparation, as children are more likely to try something they have made. A bonus is that you’re also teaching them a lifelong healthy habit.

It’s important to allow some mess at meal times. Children may spill things when learning to feed themselves, and they also learn through touch and smell because they’re the two primary senses used when eating.

2. BE A GOOD ROLE MODEL

Children will imitate us and other adults around them. Aim to set good examples with eating healthy options and being physically active. The benefit is that when you set good examples you’ll be looking after your health as well!

Try not to discuss dieting or weight concerns in the presence of your child.

Keep meal time as family time. Thanks to our busy lifestyles we often forget the simple things and meal times are a great way to bring the family together and discuss each other’s day and events. If dinner is late due to your work schedule, it may be best to feed young children early and let them join you at the table for a snack.

Always aim to have time out from electronics (TV, tablets and phones) as they are distractions that can hinder family interaction.

3. LET YOUR CHILDREN THRIVE ON ROUTINE

Establish a good routine and keep meal times regular and familiar to encourage a healthy pattern for your child’s eating habits. In the lead-up to a meal or snack, promote quiet activities as tiredness and over excitement can decrease appetite and lead to misbehaviour.

Prior to sitting down to eat, it’s also a time to prompt hand washing and other good hygiene practices. As a rough rule set aside 20-30 minutes for meal times and 10-20 minutes for snacks.

If the food is not eaten, allow your child to leave the table and try leftovers at a later time. Your kids will feel more secure when they know what to expect and a routine will help with this.

4. FOOD FOR HUNGER AND NOURISHMENT VS REWARD

Try to avoid bribing your child with food. Bribing with foods or treats teaches children that certain foods are more enjoyable and desirable than others. Phrases like “eat your peas or you will not get ice cream” tend to backfire over time. Children may consume a food to get the reward, but may end up disliking the food intensely.

Instead you can try praise, sticker charts and trips to the park or other rewards that will interest them first.

5. DON’T FILL UP BEFORE THE MAIN MEAL

Always be mindful of liquid or fluid consumption near main meal times. Filling up a small stomach on water, milk, cordial or juice prior to a meal will suppress your child’s appetite.

EMILY’S BEST ADVICE:

“Remember there’s almost always a substitute. If they hate vegetables, offer plenty of fruit. If they won’t drink milk, try yoghurt or cheese. If they dislike chewing meat, try mince dishes, chicken, fish or baked beans. Lastly, visit an Accredited Practising Dietitian. We’re full of ideas and will tailor an approach and strategy to best suit you, the family and your fussy eater.”