We all want our children to eat well, eat independently and eat healthy. It all depends on us as to how we can get this done. How many of us really trust our child to eat his food on his own and also finish it? We feel the child will fuss or not eat properly and this might hamper their growth and development. Well while we cannot deny this dilemma but at the same time instilling a habit of eating meals on their own has its own benefits. It helps them explore their food, develop an interest towards the taste and master the task of eating independently while understanding how much is enough? The challenge is how to execute this in the right manner to get desired results. The absolute challenge is “How to get them to finish their meals?”
Let us explore some simple rules and tricks that can help us beat this challenge:
The dining rules:
As soon as the child starts eating solids, it is important that we ensure the rule of “sitting and eating at one place”. You bet it will be challenging but then patience and consistency are the magic words. Starting with a high chair, car seat or a booster seat will be a good idea. Will help during travelling also. Once the rule eventually settles with the child, half of your job is done. It would really help if the child is able to have at least two meals in a day with other family members on the dining table.
Scheduling meal times:
Toddlers eat small meals at frequent intervals. It is very important to schedule their meal time and be consistent in following the same. This kind of sets their body clock to eat at those dedicated hours and helps us plan well. We just need to make sure that they are not fed intermittently. Generally by the age of two, they have six regular small meals.
Mealtime is only Mealtime:
Don’t we look for easier distracting options like phone or TV during meal times and just want the task be done? Making mealtime an active task and not a passive one is very important. It helps the child to focus on his meal, explore it and be alert about it. Some vocal and playful engagement is a better way of interaction.
Variety is the key:
Children love colours and shapes, don’t they? Then why not make their food colourful and in different shapes? It is important to introduce all types of healthy textures, colours and taste in food to children in their first 3-4 years of growth. It generates a curiosity in them to explore the taste and texture. Don’t mind the mess. It is their way of exploring food. It helps them develop taste and eventually make them less fussy.
Focus on portions:
Children have small tummies. A healthy and active child will always eat when hungry and stop eating when he is full. It is very important we give the right quantity of food. Excess food can overwhelm the child and the fuss will be never ending. We can always give a refill if required.
Say No to Power Play and Bribery:
“If you finish your food, I will let you watch some TV”. Does this sound familiar? Bribing a child to finish the food is a very short term and vicious solution. Say a big No to this approach. Losing patience or putting up a fight to finish the meal again does not help in long term. Let’s learn to be patient. Take it easy, take it slow and be consistent in following the protocols of mealtime.
Watch and Learn:
Toddlers are the best copy cats to have around. It is important that family members make sure they finish their meals. Toddlers will watch them and understand the importance of finishing a meal especially from peers and siblings.
Acknowledgement and Appreciate:
Every child comes with a different attention span and temperament. Don’t stress up! It is important to acknowledge the child with an appreciation like “Good Job”, “You are doing well” or “Well Done” once they finish their meal. If they leave a little we should still appreciate by saying “You did well and you can do better”. It motivates them to do better. Don’t expect a 10 on 10 results would be unfair don’t you think?
All days are not same:
There are days when the child would be stressed or tired and may not want to eat well or finish the meal. It is okay if they eat less or skip a meal on occasions because they want to rest. Things always fall back in place once their body clock is back to routine. Just relax.
Be Consistent and Patient:
We all know bringing up a child is not an overnight task. It is always a work in progress. Being consistent in following the meal time rules is half the war won. Mind it little ones can be the most disciplined humans around. Just remember Patience is the key to Perseverance and Perseverance is a key attribute of Parenting.
With toddler children, it is important to keep their playtime and mealtime as an alternative schedule. When children are active, they are bound to feel hungry and when they are hungry they will definitely eat the desired portion. It is up to us to analyse our child well enough and give him the right portion and liberty to say no once he is full. The idea is not to force feed just for the sake of finishing. The idea is to make sure the child eats sufficiently well, eats healthy and stays active. Just follow the thumb rule - Portions, Patience and Perseverance.
Also read: Fussy Eater Management: Simplified!