You find that you are nagging your children to eat at mealtime. You give them what you believe to be an appropriate portion of food, sometimes they finish and other times they don’t. No matter if they eat well or not, without fail 20 minutes or less after they are FINALLY done eating they are asking for a snack or dessert food. They are whining they are hungry even though they just ate. You are limiting the snacks because we want them eat more of the meal.
Are you torn because you don’t want them to be hungry if they are in fact legitimately hungry, but you also don’t want to be manipulated for snacks?
Of course your child prefers the snack over the meal – it tastes better! It very likely in this type of situation it really has nothing to do with hunger and fullness, but rather the underlying issue is they are eating to get the snack/dessert they want.
So what to do then?
Establish a Family Meal Routine
Children thrive off of structure and consistency. Take a look at what your meal and snack schedule looks like. Do you even have one? Do your children know when the next meal or snack comes from? This would be step one. You as the parent want to be able to know exactly when the next meal and/or snack is coming so you will be able to follow through with setting boundaries around this.
My recommendations: Serving a meal or snack every 3ish hours. Yes, this includes a bedtime snack.
Serve All Meals and Snacks at the Table with NO Distractions
Kids are busy bodies – they love to be moving and they are constantly full of energy. This means they don’t love to sit still and eat a meal. Sometimes a child will get up from the table just to burn off some energy, but they aren’t actually full. However, teaching your child to sit at the table and eat helps them to know when they are at the table their job is to eat. Also, if they are allowed to graze on snack- why wouldn’t they want the snack over the meal?
Make Meal Time Pleasant
Children will try to avoid or escape what isn’t enjoyable for them. If you find you are constantly nagging, coercing or flat out getting angry a the meal, your child could be escaping before they are full just to get away from the pressure. This is probably one of the hardest things for my clients to stick with, but it’s one of the MOST important – no pressure at the table.
Pressure shows up in so many ways:
- 2 more bite rule
- No thank you bites
- Serving the food on their plate
- Making them eat more of one thing to get more of another
- Rewarding for food eaten
- Punishing for food not eaten
Family meals should be about family time – a time to connect. Focus on connecting instead of “getting your child” to eat.
Family Style Meals
Every client that comes to see me says this is there favorite thing that parents change. Children LOVE control – when you serve all the food on the table and allow them to pick and choose from what is served, it gives them the control they need and want. Yes, you are right sometimes your child may reject the veggie if you let them decide, but this is okay! We aren’t in the mood for all foods all the time and neither is your child. Battling about these foods and getting them to eat them will more likely result in them continuing to reject them rather than eat them. If you want to know what should be included in the family style meal I’ve got this awesome free downloadable on the 5 foods to Serve at the Family Table that will get you started.
Serve Snack or Dessert with the Meal
I know, I know. As I say to my clients this is the HARDEST recommendation for most of parents to implement (because of their own fear of what they think will happen), However, once they implement it they all say it was the BEST recommendations I had made. It’s a game changer for changing your child’s relationship with desserts and snacks. Think about it, if your child is really in the mood for a certain snack/dessert they are going to try to “save room” for it. Problem is children don’t know what “saving room” looks or feels like. Often times they get up from the table hungry so they have enough room for the food they really want. Remember, this stuff tastes good so of course they prefer it and will save room for it and sometimes at the expense of eating the meal. I go in to WAY more detail in this blog post if you’re curious about this!
These are just the beginning steps, but if you are able to implement these you will notice a difference in overall how much better their eating can get over time. It takes time and consistency, but it will be worth it. Implementing these steps can help your child learn to be a more intuitive eater and help them to have a good relationship with food. Most importantly, this will end food battles!