Dealing with Unwanted Behaviors at Mealtime - Happy as a Mother

Dealing with Unwanted Behaviors at Mealtime

This week, I had the pleasure of picking a pediatricians brain about toddlers who demonstrate less than desirable behaviors at meal times. You know the behaviors I am talking about: throwing food, refusing to eat, dumping food on the table, the list goes on. Meal times, especially dinner when everyone is tired, can be very frustrating. I know for me personally, after all the thought, logistics, and preparation that have gone into the dinner being served, you dang well better eat it. If only my nearly two year old saw it the same way.

This got me thinking, how many parents out there end up in a full on cowboy standoff with their toddlers/preschoolers at mealtime? It’s a very easy trap to fall into! Nothing boils my blood more than going out. of. my. way. to prepare food, just to have my toddler throw it on the floor, or refuse it without taking a single bite. Am I justified in my frustration? Sure. I put a lot of time, effort, and even money into the meal that was prepared. However, there are other things I can do to control the situation instead of having a battle of wills with my mini me. Entering into a power struggle with a toddler isn’t helpful and, doesn’t solve the problem! #facts

Here are some things YOU can control, along with your temper *wink*.

As the parent, you control:

What food and drinks are served

Make one meal for the family. Yup, just one. Not a kid meal and a parent meal, or pasta for one child and rice for the other: one meal. It is so easy to fall into the habit of making the kids a separate meal of something we know they will eat to avoid a battle and the resulting empty stomach. Serving one meal may be a hard adjustment at first, but consistency is key. Don’t fall into the power struggle. Over time, your child will learn to eat the new foods they are exposed to. Keep expectations clear and consistent. Want more ideas on how to introduce new foods, keep an eye out for my next article.

When Food is served

You as the parent are in control of when your child eats. Have a routine schedule so that when it’s time to eat, your child is actually hungry. Incorporate snack times, but space them out between meals so that your child isn’t grazing all day, and actually comes to the table with a hungry tummy.

Where food and drinks are served

I’ve heard many people suggest that children eat better at the table with the family. I have experimented with many different ways to get my boys to eat, and I have come to learn that this is true. In our home, our meal times are most successful when we eat at the table together. That includes me. I may not always be hungry, but I do try to make a point of dishing up a small portion to eat when they are eating, especially at dinner time. This is particularly helpful in getting my toddler to eat, as he usually wants whatever my husband or I are having. Of course there are times when I am feeding the baby, or finishing something in the kitchen while they are eating, but I have really been trying to slow down and eat with them at the table –  truthfully, it makes a huge difference!

What your CHILD controls at meal time:

If and how much of the food they eat

This is the point that the pediatrician and I spent the most time on. She shared that it is not your responsibility to force your child to eat their meal — it is in fact their choice what they choose to eat or not. By allowing them to choose, they learn to listen to their body’s fullness cues. This allows them to take a more mindful approach, rather than having to finish everything they are served. Go figure, we can leave it up to them to choose?! But seriously, have you ever eaten what you felt was enough, but the host of the dinner party continued to shove food in your mouth? Don’t be that host.

There are developmental stages where mealtimes will be more challenging than others.  Try your best to remember that it is just a stage and they will outgrow the behavior. If your child throws their food, simply remove their plate and have them wait in their high chair until everyone else is done their meal.  If it is age appropriate, include them in cleaning up what was thrown. The key here is really having a consistent approach: clarify the expectations and stick with them. Try your best to eat together as often as possible. Keep mealtimes pleasant and relaxed: don’t stress the small things like them eating with their fingers.

Phew! Isn’t it a big relief to realize that your toddler shares some of the meal time responsibility? That you don’t have to bribe, fight, argue, and threaten to take away their prized possessions to get them to eat their dinner? What other strategies have you found helpful when dealing with challenging behaviours or picky eaters? Pop into the comments to share your expertise!

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  1. Erica says:

    thank you! made the change 🙂

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