Teaching Children Good Dinner Habits by Kristin Farmer, M.Ed.

“I think if you follow anyone home, whether they live in Houston or London, and you sit at their dinner table and talk to them about their mother who has cancer or their child who is struggling in school, and their fears about watching their lives go by, I think we’re all the same.”
– Brene Brown

Keep the Peace at the Dinner Table 

Children are sometimes stubborn at meal time, but some creative strategies can defuse tense dinner table battles.

Although children are interested in exploring new things, their curiosity does not always extend to food. Eating dinner with your children can sometimes result in angry words and a battle over food. This kind of stress can prevent your child from becoming a well-rounded eater who enjoys a variety of healthy foods. Before you let frustration take over your reactions and make a trying situation more difficult, try to adopt some new strategies for preventing mealtime tantrums.

Family smilling around dinner tableInvite Your Children to Help

Getting your children involved in meal planning and preparation is a good way to build their interest in food and give them some control over what they eat. Take them with you to the grocery store so that they can see the wide variety of delicious foods available. As your children age, familiarity with the grocery store will help them select healthy ingredients and build their own meals.

Increase Exposure to Foods

Sticking to the same foods night after night will bore your child’s taste buds and may lead to picky eating. Instead, expose your child to a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables. Even if she doesn’t immediately enjoy a food the first time, keep offering it to her. It may take multiple attempts before she decides that she can tolerate a particular food.

If you Bribe Kids with Desert, make it a “First-Then” Option

Sometimes, you may feel tempted to bribe your child with a dessert if she finishes her entire meal. Rewarding good eating with an unhealthy treat can send confusing messages to your child. In addition, relying on bribes to get your child to eat can force you to offer bribes to get your child to accomplish other tasks. If you find that bribing with a desert is one of the only ways to get a child to eat dinner, then make sure the bribe is phrased as a “First – Then” statement. This empowers your child to be in control of her environment by getting rewarded for a “First – Then” activity.

Limit Snacks

Snacks are a great way to keep your children satisfied between meals. However, too much snacking can cause your child to feel too full to eat a meal. Don’t let your children eat snacks too close to mealtimes. Instead, use snacks to supplement meals if your child frequently does not eat the other food that you offer.

Be a Good Role Model

Children learn from watching the behaviors of the adults around them. If your child sees you constantly eating cupcakes and chips, he will probably want to skip the vegetables that you offer and just eat sweets instead. If, however, your child observes you eating a balanced and healthy diet, he’ll be more likely to eat a balanced diet as well.

Give Yourself a Break

Despite your best efforts, sometimes a dinner with your child just will not go the way you want. On those nights, do not let yourself get too emotionally involved or upset. As long as you continually offer food to your child throughout the day, she will not starve. Leave the room to take a break if you start to feel frustrated.

A Mom’s Story: How to Avoid Handing Over the iPad

My son has a hard time waiting for the food to arrive when we go to a restaurant. So last night I made sure that I had markers and we used the paper placemat as our drawing paper. We spent 20 minutes talking about, imagining and designing a treehouse that he wants to build and the roses he wants to plant. We even problem-solved the weather and how we can plant the roses in planters and move them into the garage when freezing winter arrives. We drew our plans and we will use them when we begin our project. This is a way to have a healthy parent / child discussion and to distract from the waiting time. Waiting is a skill that is hard for us all, but especially for little children. Being a parent that interacts directly with their child vs handing them a game to play on the iPhone is a much healthier way to model waiting behaviors.  We are connected and unplugged!

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. Follow Kristin Farmer Aces on Twitter and also on Pinterest.
© 2014 Parenting by Kristin Farmer Blog – All Rights Reserved
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