Everyone knows how important it is to eat our fair share of greens — everyone, that is, except your child who is scrunching her nose at that side of asparagus, hoping her determined distaste can make it disappear into thin air.
It’s easy to get frustrated when you’re having a hard time convincing your children to dig in to their healthy and not-quite-favorable helpings. By making the following practices part of your dinnertime routines, you can make your mealtimes — and picky eaters — happier and healthier.
1. Prepare meals that include both accepted foods and new foods
If your child is hesitant to try new tastes, try pairing new ingredients with foods she already enjoys. Studies show that picky eaters are more likely to try — and yes, even enjoy — new foods when they are paired with classic favorites. If your eater is particularly picky, try not to introduce more than one new food in a mealtime.
2. Smile, be happy and show that you are enjoying the meal yourself
When your family sees how much you’re enjoying those leafy greens, they are more likely to have an open mind while eating. Set a healthy example, and keep the energy around the table positive!
3. Ask questions to make dinnertime fun
Conversation around the table is one of the most important and beneficial parts of our family mealtimes. Make the dining room a technology-free zone. Ask your kids about their day and learn more about the stories they have to tell. If those questions fall flat, mix some fun topics into your chats. If you could have any super power, which would you want? What would be the coolest invention ever? Asking questions and conversing during mealtimes can help children feel more relaxed and open-minded.
4. Let your kids decide how much to eat, and whether to eat at all
It’s easy to stress over how much and what our kids are eating. However, putting pressure on them to eat when they don’t want to, or finish a dish they don’t like, can have negative effects. Studies have shown that children tend to react poorly when pressured to eat, and they are less likely to enjoy new foods or entire mealtimes. Don’t show your frustration when your kid refuses to take a bite of broccoli, but praise her if she does.
5. Ditch the dessert battles
Never hold dessert hostage. Food shouldn’t be used as a punishment or a reward — it should always be a choice. If your child is too focused on a sweet after-dinner treat to eat her meal, try offering dessert with dinner. It sounds crazy, but for many difficult dinner times it can make a huge difference. Let them decide when they can eat it, but keep the dessert portions small so it doesn’t ruin her appetite Dessert shouldn’t seem off-limits or like a reward.
Every family is different, but incorporating a few of these approaches to your mealtime can often help ease tensions at the table. By keeping a positive attitude and respecting your child’s choices, your mealtimes and family can be happier and healthier every day.