5 tips for a successful mealtime!

Every parent knows mealtimes with young children can be a struggle, quite often ending in tears, tantrums and a stand-off over broccoli! We’ve put together 5 tips that might help you create, and keep, a peaceful atmosphere over dinner.

1. Know your role

During meal times, most parents tend to say things like “just one more bite”, “try the carrots and you can have pudding”. Enticing your child with sweet treats isn’t necessarily wrong, but it does overstep your responsibility as a parent: your job is to provide healthy and nutritious food, it is your child’s job to decide whether to eat it. Some people may be hesitant to put that responsibility onto their children but, when it comes to being hungry, children actually have a good sense of eating, and stopping when their full. Studies have also shown they’ll naturally gravitate towards food that contain more of the nutrients that their bodies actually need at the time.

Taking over your child’s role crushes this natural instinct and can create anxiety or stress around mealtimes, making your child less likely to want to come to the dinner table. When mealtimes are a pressure-free zone, children will want to stay at the table for longer, and can even become interested in trying new foods!

2. Provide structure

Children feel more secure when they have a structured day. One way that can help create a successful meal time is have a visual schedule for snack and meal times. For example, for older children, this could be written on the fridge for everyone to see, or a picture chart for younger children.

Being consistent with a meal schedule can also stop the constant asking for snacks, and teaches children appetite regulation and an understanding of feelings of hunger and being full. Research has shown that children who know what to expect and when, are more content, they tend to eat better at the allocated times and are less fussy. It also means you no longer have to say “no” all the time!

3. Serve your child’s meals ‘family style’

We know that it might not be possible for your whole family to sit together for dinner every day, and a meal with your partner after your little one’s have gone to bed might be the only peace and quiet you can get! But try to have a family meal a few times a week, as children who eat with their parents tend to be less fussy over food.

Another way to encourage your child to explore foods is to avoid pre-plating where possible. This works best when enjoying a big family meal together around the table: bring the food to the table and let your child choose what they would like to eat, and perhaps let them serve themselves. If they choose to serve themselves, there will be mistakes – they might give themselves too much pasta, or spill the peas over the table. But giving them the chance to choose their food, and the quantity, not only teaches them the limits of their appetite but also develops independence.

4. Be a positive role model

You as a parent are your child’s biggest role model. Seeing you eat with them or eat the same thing as them will have a big influence on your child’s approach to meal times, and food in general. This is also a great way to combat fussy eating. Children are more likely to try new foods, or eat things they don’t like, if they see you enjoying it first. They will want to copy you, so parental role-modelling is an incredibly powerful tool when teaching children to eat well.

5. Treat all foods equally

Every parent has used sweet treats as an incentive for their child to do something, for example, getting a yummy pudding after eating all their dinner. By doing this, we make sweet foods more desirable because there is an emotion attached to them. Sweet foods really don’t need any extra help, because children automatically love them. They are born with a preference for sweet tasting foods, it’s an evolutionary survival mechanism to help them seek out the breast at birth – breastmilk is sweet. 

So how do you help your child lose the desire for sweet treats? You can still offer puddings after dinner or a chocolate biscuit after lunch, but try not to use the emotive language that comes with the treat.

Here at Tops, we offer the children a wide range of healthy and nutritious foods to eat, including vegan and vegetarian options, such as butternut squash curry, vegetable and bean pie and vegetable stew. Find out more about our recipes and menus here!

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