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Nutrition is important for children. Their bodies are continually growing and changing as they progress in age. If I were to guess what was one of the most problematic areas for parents before the age of 5, I would say it’s mealtime struggles.
The “mealtime blues” I call it! The humdrum moment of trying to figure out what your toddler will eat and if they will actually sit and eat what you give them.
Mealtime struggles can be quite a challenge for many parents, especially children before the age of 5. We tend to spend time preparing the meals only to find out that they will say NO and may fight you with the process along the way.
I will explore the options I have used to help reduce those mealtime struggles. I had a 2 and a 3-year-old that I can say are not the usual “picky eaters” and look forward to mealtimes for the most part.
Remember it will take a little time and much-needed effort on your part as a parent to implement. However, after having these steps in place, the journey will become less of a hassle and much easier to manage.
So here are tips that I use at home that work for me and have helped me to beat the mealtime, dreaded blues.
Are you also struggling with mealtime with your kids, or do you have suggestions that you could add below? Please feel free to add to my list, or ask your questions or concerns below. I would be happy to help you!
“ The ‘mealtime blues’ I call it. Surviving the humdrum experience.”
1. Create a mealtime environment or atmosphere
This is important to first and foremost get your child to be aware that it is mealtime. Create this environment by having a set space specifically for mealtime. A dining table or high chair depending on the age is appropriate.
DO NOT encourage meal times on the couch or in tv rooms. It is key to keep the mealtime environment only about eating and that’s it. No other distraction, for example, the television should be present while your child eats.
2. have a set time for meals
Having a set time for meals is important because consistency is key. It helps to prepare the child in advance for expecting mealtime. It also lessens the struggle when trying to transition between activities and mealtime.
Kids are more adapted for mealtime when they have a routine schedule. I suggest having a routine in place, especially for smaller children, because they thrive the best in that scenario.
3. Prepare colorful/attractive meals
Kids are naturally drawn to color. A colorful plate is more attractive and appealing for children, especially under the age of 5. For example, a plate of white rice and maybe chicken will probably end up on the floor quicker before it even gets into their mouths.
You don’t need to go all out and be like the savvy mom who crafts animals out of bread or veggies etc. I don’t know what your time limit is but I would not survive to do that day in and day out with a busy schedule.
Just offer more colors like bright orange carrots, or green beans when planning their meals.
Tip: Have your child help you with preparing the meals as well. It will make eating the meal more enjoyable as they realize that they were a part of the meal preparation process.
4. offer a variety of meals
Offer a variety of meals. Try not to give the same type of meals from the same food groups all the time. This is important and you will thank me later because it creates a problem with kids especially when they start in a daycare or school environment.
You may struggle with a kid that only eats pizza, starving while at daycare or school. So offer a wide variety of new foods all the time and keep rotating the ones they are used to with them so that they learn as they grow to get familiar with a wider selection of foods.
5. Please add flavor
As an adult, you are aware quite aware when you are eating tasteless food. Expect your children to feel the same way.
Seasoning their food for example by adding black pepper and salt is not going to harm them in any way, but does offer flavor that opens their appetite to want to eat the food that you prepare. As an adult we rarely eat food that is bland so why would we expect the same for our little ones?
Tip: Condiments are great to use as well. For example, a squeeze of ketchup or barbecue sauce I find are great kiddie-friendly favorites.
6. give smaller portions
It is not necessary to give a large portion of food for each meal expecting that they will eat it all. The reason is that it can appear to be overwhelming for them to see larger portions on their plate. Therefore smaller age-appropriate meals are preferable.
Also if they do not finish all of the food, there is no need to yell at them for not doing so. When they are finished eating, that is it. Sometimes it’s a learning process as well. If they didn’t eat much the day before and maybe felt hungry sooner, then they will make an effort to eat more the next time around.
7. offer treats at the end of the meal
Kids look forward to little treats after dinner and makes the transition to get to dinner time less stressful because they know what is coming ahead. Do not reinforce treats as mandatory.
Just sneak it in a few times in the week and not necessarily at every meal, but just as a way for your child to anticipate mealtime. A small cookie for example instead of a heavy dessert like ice cream, can help the process as well.
8. Praise your child for finishing their meals
Children tend to thrive when praised for eating their meals. It works wonders with my kids. They look forward to hearing you say, “Awesome job you finished all your food!” Offering positive reinforcement of praise can help to reduce a lot of the mealtime struggles that you may have.
tips for the two and under age groups
For younger children under the age of two, since they are limited in their approach to understanding the situation, it is ok to practice the same routine with them as well. The earlier you start with this age group, the better they will become anyway with mealtime later on along the way.
Overall, these tips and tricks I hope, will help you to screen and change certain behaviors that are unpleasant by implementing new ways to remove mealtime struggles from occurring in the future.
Hope you found it helpful. Remember as always that you should still consult with your child’s Pediatrician before implementing any new strategies.
For other meal-related content visit my blog post on:
- 10 Tips For Changing Your “Picky Eaters” Habits
- Foods And Recipes For Extremely Picky Eaters
- Teaching Kids How To Enjoy Cooking Meals
Did you find the strategies listed in this article helpful? What were some of your favorite tips? How have they worked for you? Leave a comment below, I’d love to know what you think.
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