Remember those quiet dinners for two, with candles on the table and soft music playing in the background? Yeah, us either. Seems like a lifetime ago – before IKEA-ware became the tableware of choice and candles became burn hazards/fire danger/one more thing that could get thrown. After all the effort to get them to the table, your sweet child takes one look at dinner and says “I don’t want this!” How can you avoid the mealtime meltdown (yours or your child’s) and get dinner back under control? Let’s check out 7 common mealtime mistakes that parents make and find out how to regain control of the dining room.
Mistake 1: Don’t Let Your Child Help Fix Dinner
Let’s face it – you’re busy. Rushing into dinnertime is a race against the clock and it is just easier to make dinner yourself. Easier is not always better, however. Studies have shown that when kids are involved in fixing a meal, they are more likely to try the foods that they made. Give them simple tasks when they are young – putting grape tomatoes in a salad, for example – and gradually allow them more responsibility in the kitchen. Not only will you be teaching them valuable skills, you’ll be helping them explore the culinary world and be more apt to try different foods.
Mistake 2: Become a Short Order Cook
When your child says they don’t like what you’ve fixed, the first inclination is to get up and fix them something else. However, that sets a bad precedent for their eating habits and puts you in the role of a personal chef. If they don’t like what you’ve fixed for dinner, offer them small amounts of each dish, and then excuse them from the table if they don’t want to eat. Don’t be swayed by crying and claims of starvation – they will survive until morning when they can have breakfast. The lesson will be learned quickly: you eat what is on the table.
Mistake 3: Bribery
You want your kids to eat vegetables, but offering them a bribe (“If you eat all your peas you can watch TV”, i.e.) to make it happen can backfire. Offer your child servings of new vegetables, but don’t push them to try it. Once they try the food, offer a second serving and then drop the matter. If they don’t want to try it, don’t worry. Keep the food in your rotation and bring it out at another meal. Foods may need to be offered up to 10 times to a child before they will try it.
Mistake 4: Stress about Weight
Dieting is not necessarily a bad thing. But your children pick up on your eating habits – good or bad – and will copy them. If you are constantly obsessing over weight and the foods that you eat, your child will mimic that behavior as well. Focus instead on healthy eating and physical activity as a family. Not only will your family learn beneficial eating habits, you’ll all be healthier.
Mistake 5: Give In To Demands
You probably know a kid who will only eat white foods (popcorn, milk, white bread, etc) or who only eats smooth foods. Those eating habits are driven, in part, by the parent who gives in to the demand. Stretch your child’s culinary repertoire by offering a more varied menu – and standing firm when they resist. Offer one of the foods they like, and several of a different kind. (See Mistakes #2 and 3 for back up on this!)
Mistake 6: Be Boring
Yes, as an adult your palate matures and you can enjoy a lovely dish of steamed carrots. Don’t limit your offerings to plain dishes, however. Get creative with your meals. For example, rent Ratatouille and then head into the kitchen to whip up your own version of it. Sit down to enjoy a Blockbuster-worthy meal. Try other adventurous meals together – you may be surprised at what your child enjoys!
Mistake 7: Have Two Seatings
Sometimes, it’s just easier to feed the kids and then send them to play while you sit down at that quiet dinner for two. While occasionally this is a great idea, eating together as a family as often as possible helps your child see adults eating healthy, well-balanced meals and also helps develop social and etiquette skills that will help later in life. Keep your kids at the table – it does get better!