5 WAYS TO MAKE MEALTIMES WITH KIDS MORE ENJOYABLE

Many parents face challenges at the dinner table with their kids. Remove the unnecessary pressures of family mealtimes, and learn how to start enjoying each other’s company.


BY: EMILY FONNESBECK, RD, CD, CLT

There’s been a lot of trial and error over the past 12 years of feeding my kids.  I’ve definitely had my fair share of fails but I’ve learned a lot along the way.  In particular, I’ve figured out a few ways to:

  • Challenge picky eaters
  • Avoid making multiple meals
  • Encourage nutritious food options without it feeling like I’m nagging or micromanaging
  • Foster competent eaters who can trust their own intuitive signals
  • And – most importantly – make mealtimes enjoyable rather than contentious or frustrating for everyone.

Of course I’m still learning parenting, but here are a few helpful hints that I want to pass on to you:

1. Cultivate a positive environment at mealtimes.

Set the expectation that no one will be disrespectful or derogatory about the food or what others choose to eat (or not eat).  When someone complains about the meal or says how much they hate this or that, gently remind them of the expectation.  Encourage them to be gracious to whoever has prepared the meal, expressing appreciation before and after eating.  If they try and don’t like some part of the meal, they can respectfully decline eating it.  

2. Prepare build-your-own style dinners.

This is probably my biggest secret in feeding kids.  If they have complete ownership of how much and what goes on their plate (of what I’ve decided is served), they rarely complain.   It’s a non-threatening way to serve a meal rather than dishing it up for them. That is when they are most likely to put up resistance.  

3. Include your kids in planning meals.  

It’s a great way to educate about balanced meals and meal planning in general, because someday, they will have to do it on their own!.  When my kids have picked a certain entree, side dish, or vegetables, they are about 1,000 times more likely to eat and enjoy it.  It also helps them know I value their food preferences and input, which makes them more willing to value mine, my husband’s and their siblings’.

4. Have them help you cook.

While you may not have time for this every night, have your kids help with chopping or assembly, and learn about ingredients as we use them.  They will be much more curious and open to trying what’s been prepared.  This is a something that works for most adults as well, because when you feel connected to your food, the whole experience is more enjoyable for you.  Knowing where the food came from and seeing it come together creates an intimacy with food that is deeply nourishing.  It’s easy to become disconnected from food, which is at least in part why food behaviors are more likely to be disconnected and disordered.   

5. Don’t expect them to like everything you prepare.  

Not all dinners will be winners and they don’t need to be.  Your job as a parent is to expose them to a wide variety of foods in a neutral, non-contentious, environment.  None of us like ALL foods, and neither will your kids.  Give them space to explore and develop their own palate without taking it personally.  In order to ensure they don’t go hungry, always serve something familiar at meals that you know they will eat.

Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: KELLY SIKKEMA

Emily Fonnesbeck, RD, CD, CLT is a private practice Registered Dietitian based in Saint George, Utah. Instead of creating unnecessary restrictions, Emily focuses on helping individuals become confident and in charge of their own well-being through Intuitive Eating and Mindful Living. She is a strong believer and advocate for helping people become capable individuals who are confident in taking care of themselves.  Make a visit and read more from Emily.

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