Creating fuss free mealtimes

Himani Jog,

The way children feel about the foods they eat and enjoy is shaped from a young age. As parents we need to be mindful of the way we talk about food as a family and the example we set with our own food behaviours.

We have put together some simple strategies to help children establish a positive attitude around meals, learn to regulate their appetite and become more adventurous eaters.

Share meals with your children

We know that children observe and mimic everything we do as parents, however this is often forgotten when it comes to mealtimes and eating. Eating alone could result in your child missing out on important social interactions as well as modelling enjoying healthy food. Sharing a meal with your child helps encourage positive behaviours, as well as teaching appetite regulation, healthy eating norms and increased food acceptance.

Ignore the mess!

Wiping a child’s hands and face as soon as they get messy can interfere with eating and create mealtime anxiety, not to mention the discomfort of frequently wiping the sensitive skin around their face and hands. If children learn to associate eating with feeling uncomfortable, they may start avoiding certain messier foods or mealtimes altogether. Try wiping sticky fingers or messy cheeks when the meal is over or as indicated by a child to ensure a positive and comfortable experience.

Keep mealtimes a comment-free space  

Unintentionally, the words we use may confuse our children. This could include commenting on the size of a meal, or the speed in which a child eats their food. Children can internalise these messages and may not always understand the words in the way they were intended, which can result in children either overeating or eating less. Remember that children are still learning, and they need to enjoy their food in a space that is free of too many comments.  Try to set an example with your own eating habits by munching mindfully and even stopping to enjoy conversation between mouthfuls.

Watch for signs they have finished  

If a child is instructed to finish their plate of food instead of listening to their own cues, this can interfere with their ability to regulate their own appetite. Be aware of roughly how much your child normally eats and serve them just enough or less, this way there is always room for a second serve if needed. Trust that your child knows their body better than anyone and should to be encouraged to develop independence, rather than pressured to eat a set amount of food.