How to cope with mealtimes when you have little ones or fussy eaters

When you’re a parent, you soon learn how stressful mealtimes can be.

Fussy eaters, kids refusing to sit at the table, it can be a stressful time of day and all you really want is to be able to feed your children a healthy meal.

What to do for the best – let them get on with it, only feed them what you know they will eat, force the issue, let them go hungry? It’s always a tough call and believe me I know. When my son was little, he was often sick at mealtimes and every time, it was after that ‘one more mouthful’ plea.

I don’t know why I didn’t learn, but I was concerned he wasn’t eating enough, so would encourage him to eat what I served. It was through a lot of trial and error and hair pulling that I eventually got to the bottom of what was really happening, but I remember the stress of mealtimes along the way.

Today, I have Alex Thurman from Feed the Brood, here to offer a few tried and tested tips for coping with mealtimes-stress.

Food Blogger, Alex, creates recipes and provides meal planning advice for parents to help them cope with fussy eaters. A parent herself, Alex is no stranger to mealtime struggles, but she’s very kindly provided me with some great tips to share with you that will help make mealtimes an enjoyable affair for all involved.

Tips for coping with mealtime stress and fussy eaters - A Free From Life

“I don’t like it!”

The predictable 5 p.m. chorus echoes around my dining table. My three young children usually rock up with the expectation that they’ll hate what’s on offer. It’s not surprising; I write my own family-friendly recipes and blog about fussy eating, so there’s rarely a day that they recognise what I’ve cooked. I try very hard not to let their cries of rejection dampen my own enthusiasm for my meal, take a deep breath and practise what I preach:

STAY ZEN – I don’t want my children to remember me as a crotchety old lady, I want to have a happy relationship with them, so I stay ridiculously chilled. The more chilled I am, the quicker they chill.

EAT TOGETHER – Studies show that children from families who eat together have greater emotional wellbeing. With this in mind, eating together is a top priority for us as a family, and we honestly do make our happiest memories at the table. We talk about our days and often have silly talk. Another bonus is that when my head is in my own food (because what I’ve cooked is so delicious…), I’m less focused on what or how much the kids are eating, so it’s less tempting to helicopter.

ONE FAMILY MEAL – I meal plan one meal that will suit us all. Meals usually consist of multiple bowls and I serve before I combine. Each person gets to select what they want on their plate, which makes for a more conducive atmosphere at the table and allows each person to feel a sense of control. This approach also helps integrate allergies and intolerances into your family vernacular – which can only be a good thing when you’re dealing with allergies with little ones.

BRING PLENTY OF ‘STUFF’ TO THE TABLE – I always bring condiments aplenty, I have all the options for everybody’s preferences or allergies. I pop them all on the table before the meal starts and we enjoy the ritual of spooning things out or squeezing farty bottles. And I allow everyone to try everything (allergies excluded). My middle son is dairy intolerant, so we bring dairy-free cheese and yoghurt to the table regularly, but most other offerings are dairy free versions for the whole family.

BRING ALL THE FUN – I don’t want to be a bore, so I bring fun to the table. The kids will want to join me at the table if they associate having a good time whenever they’re there. Imagine how hard they’ll laugh if they see me accidentally snort milk out of my nose?! Being a grown up doesn’t mean I have to be stiff – that’s how I play it, anyway.

PLAY THEIR FAVOURITE MUSIC – we’ve built a family playlist of our favourite songs – there’s Top Gun, Elton John and George Ezra on there – you know, all the kids’ usual faves 🙂 I allow them the choice of music, or we take it in turns choosing an album. This all adds to the ritual of fun and it feels like we’re building a bank of memories up associated with the songs, so we now have music that defines us as a family.

RESPECT THEIR DECISIONS – from birth, humans can regulate their own appetite. My job is to provide the food and a suitable environment to eat it in, I have to relinquish control at that point and allow the kids to listen to their own hunger and fullness cues. If they don’t want to eat, fair enough.

NO RESCUE MEALS – I don’t make alternatives. Cooking alternatives will never break the cycle of fussy eating, in fact, it will worsen it. Food is regularly rejected in our house, so I keep the rejected food in the fridge and offer it again later when hunger strikes before bed. I’m not mean about it, I gently explain how it’s going to work. To be honest, this has only happened a couple of times – I think the process of offering the food at bedtime is a good way of nipping hunger whingeing in the bud.

FRUIT AND YOGHURT ARE ON OFFER – my kids have planned healthy snacks at mid-morning and mid-afternoon, so I know they’ll never starve. And there is always fruit and natural yoghurt available before or after the main meal if they want it.

So, when it all kicks off at your dining table, take a few deep breaths, think about how to make the whole experience more enjoyable and find a way to make your kids want to come back to the table time after time! You can do it!

Follow Alex on Instagram @feedthebrood, or join her Facebook Group for mealtime ideas and support from other parents.

About Nicola Young

Freelance writer and copywriter

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