Many children go through stages of eating a wider or narrower variety of foods. However if you are feeling stressed about your child’s eating, dreading mealtimes or sick of preparing the same few meals, keep reading.
- Structure is the key
Children thrive on routine and that goes for food as well. Structured mealtimes are the basis of establishing healthy eating habits. When children snack throughout the day, they don’t have a chance to get hungry. Make sure you offer five meals a day; breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. It’s important you initiate the meals rather than waiting for your child to ask for food. At each meal let them eat as much or as little as they want. They will then have time to get hungry for the next meal.
- Trust your child’s appetite
This is a hard one for many parents. We are all born knowing how much we need to eat. If you think of a breastfed baby, they know when they are hungry and they stop feeding when they are full and we don’t know how much they have eaten. We trust their appetite. When you continue this trust, your child will grow well and have the body they were genetically meant to have.
- Decide what food to offer at each meal
It is up to you to decide what foods are offered at each meal. It is better not to ask a young child ‘what do you want for dinner?’ as they don’t know that they need protein, fat and carbohydrate containing foods at each meal, how much dairy they need over the course of a day or whether they have been offered enough fruit for the day. Continue to offer the foods that you like eating and your child will learn to like them eventually. Include meals that your child likes and as the get older they can help you plan the family menu.
- Serve the food on the table rather than on the plate
This gives children the control over what to eat, from what is on offer. Some children will get upset or push the food away if it is presented to them on a plate. When you put the food buffet style on the table, your child is able to assert their independence and control, which is an important part of child development. It is important to put out at least one food that you know your child will eat if they are hungry. An example would be bread, or plain pasta or plain rice, not a additional meal.
- Take off the pressure to eat
It’s a good idea not to talk about the food at the mealtime. It’s what’s called neutral exposure. When your child comes to the table, she knows it’s mealtime and that her task is to eat. Comments such as ‘just take a bite’, ‘ this broccoli is yummy’ or three more peas and you can have dessert’ can be felt as pressure by the child. Put yourself in your child’s shoes and imagine if someone was trying to convince you to eat a food that you really didn’t like. Neutral exposure is serving the meal and letting your child decide what to eat without pressure.