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Preventing Mealtime Battles

I have something to admit to you all.

Little Lady isn’t as great an eater as she used to be – (cue sad Mummy and lots of wasted food).

Well, let me rephrase that. She is a much better eater than The Boy (who aged nearly 8 still considers his main enemies to be Darth Vader, The Joker in Batman and broccoli) but only on her terms and only what she wants, when she wants and how she wants. As you can imagine this is not pleasing me in the slightest as I have been so smug about what a great eater she is that this has thrown me for a loop.

After yet another battle at the table with her eating a total of 8 kernels of sweetcorn then deciding to throw the whole of her plate (full of yummy homemade MMM food) onto the floor I contacted the lovely Vikki Rose from AllAboutbabies (www.allaboutbabies.org.uk) to help me deal with this. Vikki gave me some great advice that is already working on my demanding little madam (she ate half of her dinner tonight and barely any of it went on the floor!) so I asked her if she would write down her advice for how to deal with this kind of issue. I hope you find it as helpful as I have.

(As for me – I’m off to clean up dessert which was thrown at me.)

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Preventing Mealtime Battles – the Do’s and Don’ts!

Don’t feed your child. Take away the control issue – if you aren’t trying to feed them they can’t clamp their mouth closed and refuse to eat.

Do offer a choice of foods.  Making a decision is empowering, even for children. However, offer a limited, ‘A or B’ type choice.

Don’t pressure your child to eat. We don’t want our children to associate eating with stress. Stress slows the digestive system and suppresses appetite.

Do eat meals together. Eating is a social, enjoyable activity and we want our children to learn to associate eating with pleasure instead of being ignored or left alone.

Don’t trick your child. Hiding vegetables in a cheese sauce or promising pudding with one more bite have far-reaching consequences and are not teaching your child to make healthy choices.

Do get your friends round and eat together. Seeing other children eating will encourage your child to copy – their drive to be socially involved in a group is greater than their need to not eat broccoli.

Don’t distract. Distracting your child by allowing them to watch TV whilst they eat will not help you improve their food habits in the long-term. Actually eating whilst distracted with an iPad or TV can cause us to overeat and not learn the feelings of being full – this can lead to health problems later on in life.

Do cook real food for your child (most of the time). The more varied textures/flavours your child encounters, the wider range of food they will accept. Resisting a texture means they need more, not less, exposure to it. “I don’t like it” often simply means: “I don’t know it.”

Don’t expect change without consistency. Changing behaviours takes time, stay consistent and you will see a positive change.

Do allow your child to decide how much to eat. It’s important your child begins to understand that if he under-eats, he will be hungry later. Make him aware of the consequence of his action and let him decide, then reinforce accountability for these choices – do not offer alternatives or give snacks/milk in between set meal and snack times. Instead, help him regulate his emotions if he becomes upset – e.g. lots of cuddles, comfort, talking, understanding.

Don’t panic about what they have eaten that day. Analyse a food-log of every mouthful over 7 days. For those with children who are small-eaters it can be reassuring or determine whether a visit to a health professional is needed.

Do make mealtime fun! Food games like “give the broccoli a haircut” or “who can crunch the carrot the loudest” can help encourage children to try new foods. Presenting the food in imaginative ways for example little self serving bowls can also encourage this. Get them involved too – a trip to the supermarket, fruit/vegetable picking or even make the food together.

Written in partnership with Yummy Discoveries

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4 thoughts on “Preventing Mealtime Battles

  1. I’m going to try these, but my question is how long should you let a meal last? My daughter takes ages to eat because she’s faffing around, will say she’s finished after two bites, but with coaxing and cajoling will eat all of her meal after an hour! I can’t stand it! She’s 3 1/2, what can I do?

  2. This is really helpful thank you but one question, my 19 month old will get upset if I give him something he doesn’t want but he won’t eat it no matter how long I leave it. The problem I have is that if he doesn’t eat his evening meal (quite regularly!) and I don’t give him something else (I piece of toast or crumpet) he can’t get through the night so we’re up trying to get him back to sleep at 2am!

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