Young kids are becoming more independent and can be stubborn! They may like to test you; declaring they don’t like a food or pester you for sweets. It can be worrying when your child doesn’t appear to be eating much. It is frustrating when they refuse food and demand alternative meals.
These tips are designed to help manage mealtime battles and foster good eating behaviours.
FOLLOW THE DIVISION OF RESPONSIBILITY
The Division of Responsibility is an evidence-based feeding approach. It can be applied right from infancy through to adolescence. The approach allows parents to set boundaries with eating while allowing the child to learn to trust their hunger and fullness.
At its core, parents decide what, when and where to eat. Parents choose and prepare the food. They provide regular meals and snacks and a pleasant eating environment free from pressure to eat.
A child is then allowed to decide what and how much (if any) to eat. Children will learn to eat the food their parents eat and feel free of scrutiny when exploring new foods.
WHAT FOOD SHOULD I OFFER & HOW MUCH?
- Offer small serves of nutritious foods regularly, 5-6 times a day. Kids may still eat small amounts some meals and large amounts at others – this is normal.
- Avoid giving drinks or snacks one hour before meals.
- Offer your child the same food the rest of the family is eating. Avoid separate meals.
- Be considerate without catering. Make sure there is something your child will generally accept at a meal. It may be a side of bread or a glass of milk.
- Offer familiar foods with new foods.
- Give children time to explore and familiarize themselves with new foods. Children may need to be offered foods 10-15 times before accepting it.
- Shopping, cooking, gardening and craft are great pressure-free ways to expose kids to new and different foods.
- Eat as a family as much as possible.
- Avoid distractions such as television, games and toys at meals. With distractions children cannot tune into their appetite or focus on the food to build their feeding skills.
- Model behaviours like enjoying a variety of foods, good manners, feeling good about yourself, and being active.
- Make meal-times pleasant by including your child in simple conversations.
- Avoid nagging or commenting on what your child is/is not eating.
SET TIME FRAMES
- Allow about 20-30 minutes for meal times and 10–20 minutes for snacks. If the food is not eaten, let your child to leave the table.
- Children need limits. They feel more secure when they know what you expect at meal times. For kids that don’t enjoy meal times, a time-limit can be comforting.
FORCING THE ISSUE
- Avoid meal time struggles. Kids pressured to eat more tend to eat less. Kids pushed to eat fruit and veg tend to eat less. (But keep offering them!) When we try to get kids to eat less they tend to eat more and gain more.
- Do not bribe children with food. This teaches children that certain foods are more desirable than others. Children may consume a food (e.g. veg) to get the reward (e.g. dessert), but that doesn’t make them like it. Usually they end up disliking the food intensely.
WHAT IF THEY DON’T EAT?
Avoid substituting uneaten meals with other meals or snacks. Your child will soon learn that this is the reward for refusing food. If your child eats poorly at a meal, wait until the next scheduled meal or snack before offering something new.