Parents often find themselves struggling at the dinner table as they strive to maintain peaceful meals with their children. Family nutrition Expert Cristina Ricioppo shares her 5 favorite tips to make each meal something to look forward to with your little eater.
1. Eat at least one meal a day together as a family, at the table, with the TV turned off.
As with most things, your child learns how to eat by watching you. Given the chance to observe you, undistracted, your child will naturally follow your example while watching you eat a variety of foods in a positive and relaxed way. Over time, they will learn that mealtimes are enjoyable and something to look forward to. While this requires planning on your part, it is definitely worth the extra effort.
2. Everyone eats the same thing.
When putting your child’s plate together, put a small bit of the main entree on the plate along with a few things you know they like to balance their plate with familiar foods alongside new items. Present the foods with a positive attitude and don’t pressure your child to eat anything. Carry on with your meal and enjoy each other’s company. Now here’s the hard part: respect your child’s decision if they choose to not eat it. But if they don’t – that’s that. No separate meals for the kids. Your child will learn to eat what the family eats over time.
3. Don’t underestimate your child’s ability to handle complex flavors.
Barring anything overly spicy, allow your child to experience a wide variety of foods, flavors and textures. Don’t second guess yourself and think “she won’t like that” before you give it a try, because you may be pleasantly surprised what your child will eat given the chance. And they will certainly let you know if they don’t like it, which leads to the next point…
4. Expose your child to foods they didn’t like that first time…again, and again, and again.
Operate under the assumption that your child will like everything…eventually. This doesn’t mean you should force your child to eat; rather, understand that just because they made a funny face or turned their nose up at a food doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t appear on their plate again. Keep trying, and it may just end up on their ‘must-have’ list down the road.
5. Don’t use sweets and treats as leverage.
Desserts and treats are an important part of life and absolutely have a place in a balanced diet, but try to avoid the bribes for a peaceful mealtime. Children can become preoccupied with the dessert “reward” at the end of the the meal, or the promise of a treat if they “eat one more bite.” All foods can be enjoyed equally when treated with care. Teach your children that all food is to be enjoyed and reserve treats outside of mealtimes.
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Cristina Ricioppo, RD, LD is a San Antonio-based Registered Dietitian focusing on creating positive culinary experiences around the dinner table for individuals and their families. By nourishing the body and mind, Cristina helps others translate their nutrition needs into simple and delicious healthy foods that can be shared as a family. Visit her at Tableside Nutrition!