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how to approach mealtime for kids

Written exclusively for bümo by Min Kwon, Registered Dietitian. 

"Make mealtimes a playground rather than a battleground."

Let’s face it. Feeding little humans can feel so frustrating and overwhelming a lot of times! They refuse to eat so many foods  (especially vegetables), seem to live off of crackers, love certain foods one day and hate them the next, won’t sit still at the table, and on and on. 

So, how can you help your child learn to eat well while keeping your sanity?

Oftentimes, we focus so much on the “what” of feeding that we don’t consider the “how,” which is equally, if not more important then the food itself when it comes to helping children eat better.

Here’s the only “formula” you need to raise a healthy child who is a joy to feed:

Offer food + be good company!

So how can you put this into practice? Here are some practical tips for you to start implementing today!

1.) Offer a well-balanced meal. 

Then let your child decide what, how much, and whether or not they’ll eat. These are 100% their responsibility. 

2.) Children thrive on predictability and structure.

So let’s give it to them!  Set regular times for meals, and offer food at those times whether she asks or not.  Same goes with snacks. Your child will learn that eating happens every 2-3 hours or so (older kids can go longer) and that the kitchen is closed outside of those times. No more grazing all day long.

3.) Approach mealtimes with curiosity, trust, and a relaxed attitude.

 Your child will immediately sense any negative energy (anxiety, stress, frustration, anger, etc.) that you bring to the table, and this has actually been shown to shut off their appetite

4.) Don’t come to the table with an agenda.

(i.e. you must eat xyz, clean the plate, etc.)

5.) It’s not your job to get food into your child. 

That’s their job. So avoid pressuring, bribing, rewarding, punishing, etc.  All these practices may be effective in the short-term but in the long run, they may actually decrease your child’s preference for the particular food.

6.) Make mealtimes a playground rather than a battleground. 

Stop watching them like a hawk and counting bites. Do make mealtimes about spending time together! This will go a long way towards helping them stay at the table because they will cherish the time spent connecting with you. And so will you!

7.) Cut yourself some slack! 

It’s ok if not all meals are carefully thought out. A good ol’ PB and J with a side of fruits/vegetables makes for a delicious and nutritious meal. I know I’d be perfectly happy with that! Over the course of a week or month, most kids will eat what they need to grow.

8.) Remember, you can love with limits! 

Teach your child what is appropriate to do and not do and allow autonomy within those limits.

9.) Stay positive and persist!

 Be in it for the long haul. You got this! And remember to give yourself plenty of grace! You’re doing the best you can and that’s more than enough. ♥️

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