Updated: Sep 7, 2018
If keeping kids happy, involved and interested around dinnertime and at the dinner table is challenging, give up! Give up control I mean. Give your kids a lot more control about being involved in the preparation and selection of dinner time foods.
Handled correctly, dinnertime can be an incredibly bonding time. Some children report that some of their greatest memories and experiences were created while working together to create meals that the entire family could enjoy. There are some tried and true ideas to bring smiles, adventure, and peace to the dinner table. Here are just a few:
Make sure there is Division of Responsibility.
Ellyn Satter, dietitian, author and therapist, defines the roles for parents and kids. "Parents are responsible for the what, when and where of feeding; children are responsible for the how much and whether of eating". I think that if we educate our children early, and allow them to be involved more in the what aspect of dinner, and add a how aspect in teaching them how to help, they will be more engaged.
Involve children in the creative cooking process.
Most kids love to be included and feel as though they have a role. Try allowing your kids to pick a new vegetable or fruit in the produce section or give them an age-appropriate job in the kitchen. Children are more likely to eat foods they have picked or helped prepare.
Stick to a schedule.
Keep meal times as routine as possible and make sure snacks are no more than an hour and a half before mealtimes. Routines will help to ensure that kids are hungry when it is time for a healthy meal.
Be the eater you want your kids to be.
Research tells us that kids, especially girls with their mothers, are more likely to adopt healthy food behaviors if they see their parents modeling healthy behaviors. For instance, if you are trying to get your child to try a new vegetable, make sure they see you with a serving on your plate. Use expression and encouragement while trying it yourself, saying things like, "This is delicious" and "Tommy, would you like to try this, too?".
Trust them. Let them Risk New Ideas.
It is normal for toddlers and kids to have different amounts of food intake from one day to the next and one week to the next. Children have an instinctual ability to control the calories they need, if we let them. Remember, the parents' job is to offer healthy choices at appropriate times, and the child chooses how much and whether or not to eat. One day they may eat a few bites, the next it may seem as though they can eat any food in sight. No need to worry as long as they are having appropriate growth for their height, age and weight.
Keep the dinner table a special and pleasant place to be.
Let mealtimes offer a time for encouragement, camaraderie and safe, and interested conversation. Kids should identify good feelings with mealtimes. According to an article, “Happy mealtimes for healthy kids” published by the National Foodservice Management Institute, conversation should be child-directed as much as possible. The focus should not be on what the child is choosing to eat or how much they have eaten. If the meal is discussed, it is good to focus on the foods themselves such as colors, nutrients or how the food is prepared.
Make healthy nutrition a regular part of their environment.
Kids spend a lot of time in front of a screen, whether it is a television or computer. Much of the information that children receive about food is negative. The food industry markets the unhealthiest choices to children. Let their screen time have a positive effect on their health by downloading or visiting websites that have fun, interactive nutrition games. Check out Bite Size Movie and Nourish Interactive, is a great place to start and even offers great tips for mom and dad.
In 2008 Dawn was selected by Oprah Magazine and The White House project as one of 80 emerging women leaders in the nation.
Dawn is the CEO and Founder of The Heart Link Women’s Network, with locations in US, Canada and Australia. She is also the architect of the Primary Colors Personality Test and Insight Tools, founder of OverJOYed Life and creator of the Happiness Curriculum. She also serves as executive director of the Executive Training Resort in Arizona.