Hi Mama. I see you there. It’s dinner time and you have been pleading with your toddler to take one more bite, just try the vegetables, or threatening no dessert if they don’t eat their food. Your intentions are good. You’re worried that they’re not getting the nutrition they need. It’s stressful. It’s not fun. Before I had kids, I imagined that mine would be different. They would enjoy all food and have distinguished palates. It’s unfortunate that these tiny people have different plans.
My daughter’s first food was avocado. She hates avocado. Her second food was sweet potato. She loves sweet potato. My second child, little big guy, has not met a food he will not eat. He will shove lettuce in his mouth and smile with leaves protruding out the sides. These tiny humans are all unique with budding independence and their own agendas. One thing is for certain though, a toddler’s agenda is to make your agenda last, because they can. The minute they sense your agenda it’s game over.
So, I am here telling you to stop. Stop the bribing, stop the coercion, stop the rewarding, stop your agenda. Dinner time can either be stressful or pleasant. Taking the parent’s agenda out of dinner is the easiest way to destress dinner and make it a time for family and connection. To accomplish this we have to develop trust.
Trust that our kids know what they need. Kids are responsible for choosing whether to eat and how much. They will eat when they are hungry and they will eat until satisfied. Bribing, rewarding, and coercing a child is telling them to ignore their body’s hunger and satiety cues to satisfy us. Our happiness should not be directly affected by how much or how little our kids eat. Yes, we need them to eat good foods, but we are also setting them up for a lifetime relationship with food and it all starts in the home, now, when they are first learning eating habits.
Trust in ourselves that we are providing regular nutritious meals and snacks. As parents we are responsible for the when, where, and what of feeding. The what should be healthy foods with occasional treats. Set the foundation with healthy meals and snacks. When treats or favorite foods are offered are offered on a predictable basis kids will not feel deprived and they will be less likely to overeat these foods. Where refers to the location of the meal. This should be the dinner table. When means having set times for meals and snacks with no eating in-between. This is hard to accomplish because of busy lives. Set meal and snack times reduce begging for snacks because they know they are come. There is no short order cooking, everyone eats the same meal and if they choose to eat it or not they know when the next meal/snack is and can wait until them. Having set times takes the unexpected out of eating.
Trust in ourselves to set a good example for our kids at meal times. Everything is observed by our littles. What we say and how we act leaves an impression on their minds of what is alright at dinner and what is not. Know that kids will follow our lead and they will learn how to behave at meal times if we show them. They will learn to try and eat a variety of foods if we do so. s
Mama, we’re all in this together and there is no perfect. It is my hope that meals are a time for you to connect with your family no matter how that looks. I want my kids to continue to grow into the body they are destined to have and have a happy and healthy relationship with food. This is the reason I strive to feed them with these principles in mind. One of my favorite dietitians is Ellen Satter. This post is based off her Divisions of Responsibility. I would highly recommend checking her out and ready some of her material if meal times are a daily struggle for you.
*Lynae Beresford is a Registered Dietitian with a Masters in Human Nutrition. She has two small children at home, a loving and supportive husband, and two crazy vizslas. She is part owner of a private dietetic practice, Choose Health Nutrition, she does healthy cooking classes with Columbia’s Cooking, and a program manager for Connecting Health Innovations. Her areas of interest focusing mainly in child and maternal nutrition. If you would like more information on the following, don’t hesitate to email her at Lynae.email@example.com*