Yesterday I shared with you 6 Principles for Picky Eaters, including our pediatrician approved Toddler Technique for mealtime. Learning how to deal with toddler stubbornness over food relieved a lot of stress for us! So today, I want to add some detail to one of those principles: Make food fun.
Let the kids help!
If having children underfoot in the kitchen absolutely drives you batty (and honestly, some days this is me), then let them set the table if they are old enough, or let them help plan the menu for the week. Research shows that the more involved children are in any process, the more likely they are to take ownership of it. The more ownership they take, the more cooperative they become. Even if all your children can do is bring you a spoon to stir with or put out napkins, etc., encourage them to get involved in the process.
- As a mama who easily falls into “maintain control” mode, I can see how kids in the kitchen might seem like a recipe for stress. However, if I prepare myself mentally ahead of time for the extra mess and potential disasters, I’m much more likely to enjoy the time spent cooking with my children. That said, some days I just prefer to cook alone. 🙂
Be an artist!
This is an area that I’m still growing in, but we all know that even adults enjoy food that is more visually appealing (it’s all about the presentation). If you want more ideas on how to get creative with food, check out my parenting board on pinterest. While I’m not confident in my abilities to reproduce the more intricate results, the more simple pins are probably doable. They are at least inspiring me to get a little more creative.
- A good place to start is to arrange food into different shapes (make a smiley face) or to make sure the plate contains what nutritionists refer to as “a rainbow of color” with various shades of fruits and veggies. Additionally, you could add food coloring to bread dough, mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, or soup for fun.
- Take advantage of holidays and create holiday-inspired plates of food. I even have a really creative friend who, once a month or so, creates a themed meal complete with décor!
- Research validates that the more colorful the plate is, the more interested children will be in eating and even in trying new foods. Did you know that people presented with a bowl of multi-colored m&ms will eat more in one sitting than those who are presented with bowl of m&ms that are all the same color?
- We can use this mind trick to our advantage with fruits and veggies! 🙂 If you offer multiple colors, you’re likely to see the kids eating more in one sitting. Think about it: would you rather eat a cup of raw carrots only, or a cup of mixed raw veggies such as carrots, cucumbers, celery, broccoli, bell peppers, and so on? I would definitely eat more if more than one veggie was available at a time.
Tell a story about the food or play “let’s pretend” with it.
We once told our twins that raw broccoli trees were really dinosaur food, and it worked – for a few meals at least. (Be sure to be honest about made-up stories, though, or you’ll be busted for lying when your children get older and wiser). We also tell all of our children how important healthy food is for their bodies – vitamin C helps keep you healthy, protein gives you energy, fiber helps you poop, and so forth. I guarantee if you have young boys and you mention poop, they’ll eat that fiber in a heartbeat!! 😉
- Once, our middle child practically inhaled a bag of carrots within the span of a few days because he wanted to improve his vision (I think he read about it at school).
- When stories or facts don’t work, get silly. For example, I encouraged a boy I was babysitting to eat a sandwich he didn’t really like by telling him to eat it like Cookie Monster would. Maybe even tell your children to make noises while eating– it will make them laugh! Remember Ralphie’s little brother from A Christmas Story eating like a pig?? 🙂 I’m not sure I personally would go to that extreme, but it’s the right idea.
Make the table a fun, family-oriented place.
Our four kiddos love suppertime because we are all together at the table (most nights). It’s a time when everyone gets to share a story or a joke and each child has his or her own moment in the spotlight. We talk a lot. We laugh a lot. And while they’re busy laughing, they’re eating! Unless of course, things get a little too crazy. But most of the time, having fun at the table keeps them interested in staying longer and at the same time, strengthens our family bond. Win, win!
Picky Eaters can easily drain the joy from mealtimes, if we allow them to. My husband and I decided years ago that we wanted to be able to enjoy family mealtime with our children. In order to accomplish that goal, we had to first do some training and disciplining in so we could have peace at the table.
It took quite a bit of time and a lot of consistent effort, but I’m happy to report that mealtime battles are very rare in our house anymore, even with our preschoolers! 🙂 (I cannot however claim that they are non-existent. Everyone has an off day now and then and children especially like to randomly challenge previously established boundaries.) Now we look forward to those evening meals together and can focus more on that funny thing our middle child just said rather than on what is or isn’t being eaten.
I hope you are able to employ some of these tips in order to make mealtime less stressful at your house! The older my children get, the more I realize that these early years pass all too quickly. Thus, it’s important to do the necessary training in order to be able to enjoy these years to the fullest (although, I realize there are some moments that are just NOT enjoyable whatsoever). 🙂
While I still have your attention, let me also humbly admit that I am not a perfect mom. I’m not even perfect in the parenting boundaries that I myself have agreed to, along with my husband. Sometimes I break the “rules.” Sometimes I’m so weary of battling that I choose to surrender for the night. We can always try again tomorrow, right? 🙂
If you struggle with feeling like you just aren’t doing things right, please take some time to read The Superwoman Myth or Peaceful Parenting, No Thanks to Pinterest. Moms are so hard on themselves, and I definitely don’t want to put unnecessary pressure on a mama who is already at her limit!
These are simply techniques that I found helpful for our family, but each family is different and each child is different. What works for us may or may not work for you! If mealtime is still a battle at your house, don’t give up; find a solution that works for you. 🙂
Do you have a great tip for how to make food fun? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Really great tips for making food fun! I think that parents are scared to offer their children variety because they want them to eat All of their food. Somehow how much our children eat has become more important than what they eat? I loved your tip about feeding them more colorful foods. That usually equates to healthier too. Thanks for sharing! I hope you will share this at Mom’s Library Link Up.
I’ll be honest – this is a real work in progress for me (as most things are). I have struggled with my weight since my firstborn was born, and I want my children to learn about healthy eating. However, it has been a gradual change over the last 5 yrs. or so. And I’m still learning!! 🙂
Carolyn Maslin says
When our kids were big enough to reach the silverware drawer , I gave them the task of setting the table. We had “melmac” (remember those?) And later correlle. I put the plates onto the counter and the boy would take them, one at a time, and put them on the table, saying one for mommy, one for daddy, one for brother (or Andy) etc. They loved helping, it used extra energy, and encouraged counting.
Yes! Thanks for sharing, Carolyn!
Carolyn Maslin says
Btw: that also gave me a chance to teach how to set the table, where does the fork go, etc.