Do you dread meal times? Is there strife in your household over food and eating? Your child may not eat for a number of reasons.
Physical: growth rate, allergies, or snacking
Environmental: distractions, tiredness, or food fixation
Psychological: an eating disorder, unpleasant textures, or power struggles
Consider spending time in prayer to determine how those issues could be affecting your family. Ask God for wisdom and discernment concerning your mealtimes.
Then consider these four strategies for changing mealtime from war zone to wonderful. All of these strategies will require parents to be consistent and united with other adult family members. Children may revolt, because (let’s face it) having power over their parents’ emotions feels good. But peace and harmony around the dinner table are worth the work.
- Eliminate Snacking:
Often snack time is more sacred to the parents than to the children, as it tends to calm and quiet rowdy kids. But our goal is for our children to be hungry at mealtime, to have a desire to fill that need with the wholesome food on their plate. Are there snacks available in our home? Yes, my kids know that fruit and vegetables are available if they need something to eat. But I don’t encourage snacking by asking them if they need one or inquire if they are hungry.What snacks are available in your home? We want to provide good quality food options for the whole family. Bags of chips or sugary cereals within reach will fill us up with empty calories and little nutrition. What foods are accessible to your children? Are they sneaking foods? When a child can sit down with a bag of chips forty-five minutes before mealtime, it is no wonder they don’t want to eat what is on their plate.
- Let It Go:The main issue surrounding the war zone at mealtime is power and control. Something as innocuous as food becomes a fully-charged battleground of wills, because, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we can’t make our kids eat. We can threaten, cajole, beg, bargain, plead, and punish—but we cannot make them eat. So, what if we removed the battle entirely? What if we didn’t respond at all when it came to food and eating? Children will eat when they are hungry and if they have healthy food choices in front of them (at mealtimes and in the cupboard and fridge) then they will eat healthy foods. It may not look exactly like the “My Plate” graphic, but that’s OK. In the Mitford series by Jan Karon, Father Tim’s adopted son Dooley proclaims that he won’t eat a certain food. Father Tim responds with a classic line, “Praise be to God! There’s more for the rest of us!” Thanks to Ms. Karon, that line has saved our meal times.
Children need to have good choices, good table manners, and a healthy attitude toward eating modeled for them. My children are allowed to not eat part of their meal, or all of it, but they are not allowed to be rude. They may not say, “This is gross” or “I hate this” or “Yuck.” We do encourage our children to try a food before deciding they don’t like it, but we don’t make an issue out of it. In turn, they don’t fuss at me when I say “no thanks” to certain foods (raw broccoli and cauliflower, I’m looking at you).
By simply removing the battle, you have removed the desperate need children have for control. Let them have control of their plate and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much food they really will eat—on their own!
- Get Kids Involved:No matter your age, having ownership in a project makes it much more meaningful. That is especially true in the kitchen. Getting kids involved in meal preparation is an excellent way for them to own mealtimes. When kids have put forth effort into the meal, they are much more likely to eat it. Remember, Psalm 34:8 says “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” Taste and see!!!
Take some time this week to assess the snacks and snack times in your home. Take a deep breath and let the battle over food go. Use the line “Praise be to God! There’s more for the rest of us!” if necessary, and laugh at the table. Make eating together a joy, not a battle.