By: Kerry Fierstein, MD, Pediatric Health Associates (Plainview, New York)
Mealtime should be fun – for you and your child! You can de-stress mealtimes by remembering some simple concepts.
#1 – Don’t really care if your child eats or not. Normal, healthy, neurologically-intact children will not starve themselves. The more invested you are, the more power you have given to your child and the more likely he is to use mealtime to manipulate.
#2 -Your job is to provide the food. Your child’s job is to determine which choice and how much. Make sure whatever you offer has some nutritional value. She doesn’t drive or shop. Don’t give her food you don’t want her to have. Don’t play waitress. If you make Mac & cheese whenever she doesn’t like what you give her, soon she will only be eating Mac & cheese.
#3 -Give them control – Make a buffet and let your child fill the plate. Create dips out of applesauce, tomato sauce, avocado, mayo, yogurt or ketchup. Put Parmesan cheese in a child-sized shaker.
#4 – Involve them. Use the IKEA principle. We are all more invested in things we make. Cooks are invested in their meals – so let your little helper prepare dinner with you.
#5 – Appeal to their sense of fun! Make plates colorful. Arrange foods in a happy face. Have pizza for breakfast or pancakes for dinner. Have a picnic in the den for lunch.
#6 – Have realistic expectations. From one year to puberty kids are just not growing that quickly. A toddler should eat 1/4 of what an adult should. That means one chicken nugget, 1/4 of a grilled cheese sandwich or 1/2 an egg.
One good meal a day is fine. So if your toddler eats two good meals today, he may not eat tomorrow at all!
#7 – Don’t sabotage mealtimes. Goldfish will fill up her little belly with no nutritional value, and no wonder she doesn’t eat dinner. Milk is not a substitute for eating. Don’t let him drink all day. Max out milk at 16 oz per day. Max out juice at 4 oz per day. Offer water liberally.
#8 – Give your child the gift of recognizing and responding to their hunger signals. Don’t you wish you only ate when you were hungry?
#9 – Go easy on yourself. Your value as a parent is not judged by how well your child eats at any given meal.