Tackle Mealtime Battles
“Till some months back, mealtimes were battle times at home,” said the mother of a 7-year-old boy. “I dreaded every meal that we all ate together at home. I would either have to force my son to eat what I had cooked and listen to his constant cribbing and crying and protests, or give in to his desire of eating some unhealthy food to make him fill his stomach happily.”
“What about now?” I asked. “Did you try the things we had discussed last time? Did they work?”
“Absolutely. Now, he eats a lot of healthy food without too many arguments. He still has his moods at times, but it so much more manageable now.”
What are the magical things we discussed which brought this change?
Well, it was not magic. They were simple things, which many of us might already know. My friend merely implemented those and brought about a transition in her life. It has resulted in a healthier eating habit for her son and much lower stress and anger in her.
Here are these simple, easy to implement ideas.
1. Involve the Child in Menu-Planning
This is one of the most important things to reduce mealtime battles. Get in the habit of planning the weekly menu and involve your child in that exercise. For one, it reduces the headache of wondering what to cook for every meal. It also helps you include things that your child likes and what you want him/her to eat into the menu.
For example, my son doesn’t like rice. So, I let him choose one meal that he likes and then add one he is not keen on. Omelette for breakfast (something he likes) followed by lentils and rice for lunch (something he doesn’t like too much). I might agree on sandwiches but put in a lot of greens inside. I might occasionally agree on chicken burgers and make them at home with whole wheat buns, grilled chicken, and some greens. The menu, once finalized, doesn’t change during the week.
Once I started this model, there have been almost no mealtime battles, and we all are eating much healthier food. Since I am planning beforehand, I am also able to try new recipes which makes cooking fun and adds more variety on our table.
2. Practice What You Preach
Children follow what parents do, not what they say. So, if they see either of their parents being picky and choosy about what they eat, they will follow suit. Therefore, as parents, the first thing that we must do is to eat everything and eat healthy ourselves. Over some time, children automatically start eating the same way too.
If we eat a lot of dessert after every meal, if we make faces when we eat broccoli or binge on snacks when we watch television, we cannot expect our children to develop healthy eating habits.
It isn’t easy, but it has to be done. And what’s more, it leads to a healthy body and a happy mind.
3. Reduce the Junk Food at Home
The best way to reduce the intake of and craving for unhealthy food is not to have a lot of it available at home. So, don’t keep ten packets of cookies and bars of chocolate and slabs of ice-cream at home. If temptation is staring at you from all sides, it is obviously difficult to restrain yourself.
This is not to say that you must not eat any dessert. Eat it, in moderation, as per the weekly menu plan. Keep only what you require for the week.
4. Don’t Force your Way Through
One thing that definitely doesn’t work is forcing the child to eat what he/she doesn’t want to at all. Instead, when you plan the weekly menu, plan it such that something that he doesn’t like (but is healthy) is alongside something that he wants. For example, I make sauteed broccoli (healthy) along with whole wheat pasta (one of my son’s favorite). Both were put in the weekly menu together with the precondition that he would eat it without fuss. Eating broccoli didn’t seem so bad to him because his favorite food accompanied it. Now, he looks forward to broccoli and has even developed a taste for it because it is associated with pasta.
I’m sure he would still hate broccoli if I had forced him to eat it. This has also made him realize that he might change his opinion on food if he gives it a try.
As of now, I am trying it for bitter gourd, not much success, though. He tries it every time I cook it but still doesn’t like it. So, I give him only a little and accompany it with something he likes.
5. Involve the Child in the Kitchen
Once the child is a little old enough to help in the kitchen, involve them in the meal preparation. Cooking with kids is a great way to connect with them and have fun. They can pour the pasta into the pan; they can stir the veggies; they can mix the ingredients, or even read out a new recipe step by step. Since they have been part of the preparation, they are more than happy to eat what they have helped prepare. Older kids can even prepare a full meal with your help or bake healthy muffins or cookies.
These are some of the things that have helped me with my son. He eats most things without any fuss now (touch wood). I shared this plan with a few of my friends, and they are seeing a change in their homes now as well. I hope these tips help you all too.