Making Meals Positive: Part 2- Keeping it Up - Your Kid's Table

UPDATE: See the new and revised post here that includes all three posts at How to Keep Mealtimes Positive.

This is the second installment in a four part series I am posting on making meal-time positive. Click here to read Part 1. Hopefully you are on your way to getting your kid to the table with out any tantrums, anxiety, or stress. If you aren’t there yet, keep working on it. In the mean time, let’s start to think about what you can do to keep the meal positive while they are actually eating!

Sam eating our dinner last night: Whole grain linguine noodles, jarred spaghetti sauce
with frozen spinach mixed in, and  meatballs. He traded his dad for a big boy plate half way through the meal!

My first recommendation to keeping meal times positive is to try to have as much of the meal and set up ready by the time your kid is eating. It is often those first few bites that can make or break a meal. If you are still rounding up other kids, or setting the table, you may miss a valuable opportunity to get them to eat something new or non-preferred because they are the most hungry at the beginning of the meal. Plus, you will be calmer and thus creating a more peaceful, positive environment! Of course, not all is lost if by the time you sit down they have already pushed their plates away, and some kids may be more likely to try something at the end of the meal (more on that at another time). I should also admit that although I know better, a lot better actually, this is often the very situation in my house. Well, I guess it isn’t that I don’t know better, but it’s hard to have it all pulled together before Sam is starting to climb into his stool looking for the grub. It really takes a lot of patience and a little planning ahead on my part.

Once the meal has started, feel free to comment on what you are eating and acknowledge if there is a new or non-preferred food (ex: “Look at those green little balls (peas), they squish a little when you bite them). It is important to describe the food because it helps take away some of the unknown. If you are talking to an older child, you could just call them peas  (ex: “I made some peas tonight and tried a spicy seasoning on them I think you might like.”)  Or you could give them a silly name together (ex: “Oh my gosh, are those green dooble loodle’s?” or “Check out these Martian balls!”)  You can tailor the names for preschoolers and even toddlers as they love to call food other things or relate it to something they know. I would like to point out that I said “comment”, if your child doesn’t respond to your cue, then move on to another non food related topic the entire family can discuss, to take pressure off the “picky eater”. There is nothing worse than feeling like you are under a microscope for the whole meal or having someone nagging you to “try the peas”. Make occasional comments throughout the meal, as needed, to your child, but their eating should definitely not be the focus. Remember you want to create an atmosphere that is enjoyable. As long as you are following #7 of my basic strategies to have a preferred food at each meal than you should take the pressure off yourself because there is something they are comfortable with. If for some reason they don’t eat, then they don’t eat. I know that it’s difficult, but if you start getting stressed your kid will pick up on it and they will start to associate meals with stress just making the issue worse. If you are doing everything you can be doing, then have some peace of mind and know that in 2 and 1/2 hours when they eat their next meal they will be hungry and most likely eat!

Last nights dinner was a success. Although I figured it out around 4:00 P.M., it was very easy and except for the spinach part, was something I knew Sam would like. As you can see in the picture above, I added some spinach, a non-preferred food for Sam, with something he really likes. This can backfire and they may refuse to eat any of it, but I took a calculated risk since we have had been experimenting with spinach a lot lately. He commented on it right away and we confirmed that it was there, I wasn’t trying to trick him. So if he was having a hard time, the pieces were big enough that I would have told him to pull them out and put them to the side so that he would at least be touching it. I also wanted to take the pressure off and keep the experience as positive as possible. Tonight it worked, and that is extremely valuable because the next time he sees spinach he will be more familiar with it and more likely to stretch himself out of his comfort zone!

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