Do you get frustrated after you make a large family meal and your kids only take two bites? Or maybe you wish that there were some go-to meals that everyone could agree upon. The good news is that taking control of the dinner hour is within your reach.

So many of my clients, and myself, face this problem – and maybe you do too.  After working all day and/or tending to extracurricular activities, we struggle to get a meal on the table that everyone will enjoy. Managing busy schedules and eating preferences for each family member is a challenge! But there are ways of taking some of the stress out of it.

Firstly, it’s important to remember that parents and children have different jobs at mealtime – our job as parents is to decide which nourishing foods are served, and where and when they will eat. It’s then up to the children to decide what and how much to eat from what we offer, if they decide to eat at all.

While that might sound like a simple enough division of responsibility, it can actually be hard to follow through with. It means that there are no pressure tactics, no bribing them to eat, i.e. “no dessert until we finish everything on our plate” or “If you try just one bite…..” Mealtimes should be free of pressure, stress, and distractions. This means no toys or devices during meal time. My clients often find this to be the hardest part….having meals that aren’t in front of the television!  But without distractions, our focus can be on eating and sharing special time together. Here are some other tips that I have personally found to help make family meals more enjoyable:

  • Ensure there are defined meal and snack times instead of allowing kids to graze all day. I ensure at least 2-3 hours between meals and snacks so that when we sit down to eat, they actually have an appetite. It’s a lot easier to resist broccoli when you’re not actually hungry for it!
  • Be a role model. I make sure that I am eating the foods I want my kids to eat. Research shows that parents are the biggest influence on how their kids eat, especially at a younger age. While I really can’t control what my kids eat, I can definitely be in charge of showing them how I fuel my body.
  • Promote competent eating. Talk about the function different foods play in helping your body grow, play, and learn. Obviously this is age-dependent, and we know that focussing on the positive aspects of how food helps our bodies thrive is more effective than telling our kids what not to eat.
  • Respect their hunger and fullness cues. Kids typically tend to be very good at listening to their hunger and fullness cues, something us adults can learn from. Recognize that kids sometimes will eat very little, and other times will eat a lot. That’s ok!
  • Get them involved with grocery shopping, prepping and cooking food. It’s amazing how much more appealing food is to them when they’ve had a part in choosing and preparing it. (see photo above of my two year old helping prep supper).

If you’re looking for quick and easy meal and snack ideas, check out my blog post. Check out what Today’s Parent magazine had to say about my techniques. If you are in Kelowna or the greater Okanagan and want more individualized support in navigating picky eating issues or planning healthy family meals, I can help! I’m a dietitian as well as a mother of 2 young boys and understand the struggle.


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