Last time we talked about some principles for preventing conflict around food. We cannot force a child to eat, but we will develop a strategy that will use our greatest ally, the child’s own hunger, to help the child learn self-control and healthy eating habits. This will only work if the strategy is not sabotaged by allowing snacking between meals.
Here are the steps:
- Make sure to have 4 consistent, predictable eating times every day (3 meals and a set snack time).
- Serve healthy meals with at least 3 food groups that are age appropriate and let them choose what to eat off the plate. For young children, simple or single ingredients foods are good choices rather than casseroles or gourmet.
- If they complain or say they don’t like it, simply explain to them, “We don’t say what we don’t like, just put it off to the side, and eat the rest.” If they continue to complain, then they receive a time-out for complaining. Make it clear that the time-out is for complaining, send them to their room for the appropriate amount of time, then they can come back and try again.
- If they don’t eat anything, that’s okay. Just make sure you follow the whole process and don’t get into a power struggle: don’t try to convince, beg, nag, lecture, argue or bribe. If they eat nothing, it’s alright, it will not hurt them if they miss a meal or even two (despite what they say).
- Explain to them that if they get up, it means they are done and cannot have anything to eat until the next meal or snack time. Again, there is no need for arguing or convincing, just state the facts and then stick to the routine. It’s not “you-against-him”, he is making his own choice and will have to learn to live with those choices. This not only gets you out of the potential power-struggle, it is a good life lesson!
- If they whine or complain that they are hungry between meals, don’t lecture, belittle, or say “I told you so.” Just state the facts: “We will be having dinner at 6 PM, that is when we eat next.” And move on without any emotion. If their whining begins to infringe on the rights of you or others, they should have a time-out for the whining.
God made our bodies and biology works! If you follow this process, they will eventually be hungry and learn to eat what you are giving them at a meal time. But again, don’t make this into a big deal, and don’t shame them by saying, “I told you that you could eat it” or anything like that.
As you grow together in this area, you will find that meal times together can be an enjoyable and pleasant experience for everyone and even become an important part of building a closer relationship with your child as you get to spend your meal time talking about life and learning about each other!
Note: Juice and milk between meals are not a good idea because when they fill up on milk and juice (which are low in iron) they aren't hungry for foods with the iron and other nutrients that they need like meat, chicken, and beans. Children should not have more that 1 cup of juice per day and if they are eating fruit they should have even less juice. And children should not have more that 2 cups of milk per day and even less if they are eating other dairy. If they are thirsty, water is the best choice, and it leaves plenty of room for healthy meals.