Getting Children to Eat ‘Better’

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Mealtimes. They can be a battleground, or they can be the opposite, with calm, well-behaved children who eat everything you serve them with no fuss. For most parents they are something in between, but they can still be a source of stress and worry. Parents are only too aware of what constitutes a healthy diet and of course they want to apply that knowledge to their children’s meals, but actually getting them to eat what you want them to can be very tricky.

Parents know that at least five portions of fruit and vegetables should be eaten every day, by kids and adults alike. What often works is offering something from this food group at every meal time – perhaps some berries with breakfast and some broccoli at dinner – and offering as snacks throughout the day. Carrot sticks, cucumber, celery, apple – they are all mess-free and easy to eat – and you can try a variety of dips to make it more enticing. If parents keep offering it, chances are that the child will take some of it…eventually.

Some children are particularly good at avoiding fruit and vegetables – for this sort of child it might be a good idea to ‘hide’ it. A tomato sauce can contain an array of hidden, blended vegetables. Carrot and courgette can be very finely grated into Bolognese sauce or stew. Or a cake packed full with bananas and apples can be made into ‘chocolate’ cake with a spoonful of cocoa powder…and they are none the wiser.

A reward chart might work well for good behaviour – staying in their chair, not fighting, using cutlery correctly – these are all things which should be practised at home every day. Many experts agree that food should not be used as the reward, perhaps an extra story at bedtime, or ten more minutes of TV the next day, would be better incentives.

children eating 2One thing worth remembering is that there is only so much that parents can control when it comes to their child’s eating habits, but they can control a very significant part. What is put on a child’s plate is up to the parents, but what a child eats is up to them. Some parents swear that if they simply serve the food and leave their child to it, after a few days (or maybe weeks) of dinner refusal, they will eventually eat, or at least try what they are given. The thought behind this method is that the parent must take away all their attention surrounding food – they should act disinterested in what’s for dinner, so that the child has no control over their parents at mealtimes…and it should become less stressful for everyone.

About Author

Olivia Spencer is a writer and researcher living in London with her husband and two children. Previously a Philosophy graduate and chartered accountant, Olivia now blogs for the Huffington Post and writes for other sites and magazines with a special interest in parenting and mental health. She has written a book about postnatal depression in dads - Sad Dad: An Exploration of Postnatal Depression in Fathers (Free Association Books, Sept 2014).

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