You have more influence on what your children eat than you may think. For children under 12, both Mum and Dad are the most important role models for kids when it comes to eating and physical activity. Children would rather eat a meal with you than with anyone else. So, if you want your child to eat particular foods or food groups, they need to see you eating those foods on a regular basis. Children learn to like the foods that their parents like eating. If they never see you enjoying eating vegetables, it’s unrealistic to expect them to learn to like vegetables unless they choose to as an adult.
It’s good to remind yourself that you are the boss when it comes to choosing the menu and deciding when, where and how meals are served. For children to learn to like the foods that you like, they need to be served those foods on a regular basis. If you limit the menu to what you know or think a child will eat, it will limit their opportunities to even see different meals let alone eat them. It also becomes boring for you and you can easily end up resenting the fact that you don’t get to eat the foods you like eating.
It’s good to start with a two-week menu: write down what you would like to eat at each dinner meal. Include take-away and eating out if that’s what you normally would do. Warning: don’t rule out something you like to eat just because ‘the children won’t eat it’.
At each meal:
- Provide one food that you know your child will eat if they are hungry. A starchy food is the easiest and most common. For example, bread, rice, plain pasta or noodles as well as butter or oil to add.
- Put the meal on the table ‘buffet style’ so that each person can choose what to put on their plate.
- Let everyone eat as much or as little as they want from the foods that are on offer. That includes the starchy food. It’s OK if your child only eats one food at the meal. The main thing is that they can fill up and leave the table satisfied.
- Trust your child’s appetite. Children will eat the amount of food that they need if they have food available on a regular basis
- Talk about anything apart from the food. From a young age, children know that when they come to the table, it’s mealtime, so there is no need to ‘encourage’ or ‘get’ them to eat.
- Enjoy the food you have chosen to eat.