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How Can I Avoid Mealtime Battles?

iStock_meal_battles.jpgIt's best to avoid turning mealtimes into a battle zone. Nothing will be achieved by forcing your child to eat or punishing them for not eating the desired foods. Contrary to popular belief, children don't naturally dislike eating healthy foods. They are not born hating broccoli and Brussels sprouts – encouraging your child to eat a healthy balanced diet is all about giving your child a healthy relationship with food from a very early age. 

Tips to Avoid the Mealtime Battles

Variety is the key

Introduce children to a range of tastes, textures, colours.   When a baby starts eating solid food at six months, offer a wide variety of vegetables and fruits. Many parents stick to things they know their child likes and proceed to feed them little else. Variety is the key for good balanced all round nutrition. If they don't get a broad range of foods to start with, it's not surprising if they'll have a very limited repertoire of foods they’ll eat later on. Babies like to try new flavours – they may spit it out - but that doesn't mean you can't try it again on another occasion. 

Just because your baby, toddler, or child doesn’t eat a food, it doesn’t mean they don’t like it….they may not have even tasted it!! 
Children may need to be offered a new food 6-10 times before they taste it and, eventually, eat it. 

Keep offering a small amount of the food that your child has previously refused as repeated tasting helps them to learn to accept new foods. It helps if they see parents and peers eating them too.

Toddlers and young children are notoriously fussy eaters. Many parents out of anxiety that they might starve, will give them the things they know they will eat. A healthy child will not starve, but if they know that you will eventually give in and offer their favourite food (ice cream, chocolate, hot chips) when they refuse everything else…of course they’ll hold out for their favourite food!

  • For more information and tips in Fussy Eating click here.

Make Meals Fun

Make mealtime a social time – make meals a fun experience.    Have meals together as a family – involve children in setting the table, cooking, and use kids plates/cutlery. Sociable and impressionable, small children benefit hugely by being included in the family meal, absorbing everything from table manners to what food the rest of the family is eating. If children observe siblings and adults eating a range of foods at family meals, they will be more likely to have a more open minded attitude toward a range of food and try it themselves.

It is clear why mealtime battles occur - there is so much anxiety about children's food and eating. Many parents feel stressed and overwhelmed with the task of providing their child with the best possible diet. As a result, many parents feel as if they are failing if their child isn’t eating well or enough…and subsequently put pressure on themselves and their child at mealtimes.

 Plan of Action

Below is a simple plan of action to alleviate some of that anxiety and to avoid mealtime standoffs
  • Offer a variety of only vegetables, fruit or whatever healthy food you want your child to eat
  • Don’t punish your child for not eating them – simply remove anything that’s not eaten
  • Educate your child about healthy eating and nutritious food. Food play and educational games are a great fun way to do this as a family.
  • Don’t offer any less healthy alternatives
  • Persevere and look at the big picture
  • Understand and appreciate that fussy eating is very common and that your child will grow out of it…and won’t starve
  • Remain calm and keep offering a variety of healthy foods

For more information and ideas: