In many families providing food for children can turn into a battle ground, and instead of it being a nice family time it can be stressful and upsetting for everyone. So the first thing you need to know is….. if your kitchen table is a battle field and most meal times end up with tears and tantrums you are not alone, the same thing is happening in homes all over the country, but you can change this upsetting scene, by making some small changes.

It’s really helpful to serve meals at regular times so that children know when to expect food. Children really respond to good routines.

 Providing too many snack foods for children in between meals, or drinks, especially milk  can really interfere with their appetite when meals times come around. Keep snacks to a minimum and always make sure they are healthy snacks, and get children into the habit of drinking water, or watered down fruit juices from an early age.As soon as your child is old enough, allow them to be part of the food preparation process. This will take time and patience on your part, as we can do things quicker than they, but it is worth it to have a happy meal time experience. Encourage them to set the table, help with peeling and chopping (always supervised of course). From a very young age my son loved helping in the kitchen, I would always give him the job of preparing mushrooms, they would end up all shapes and sizes but that never mattered. Have days in the week when each child gets to choose what meal the whole family will eat, but you must follow through, so sometimes giving them 4 or 5 choices is better than an open choice, or you may find yourself making pancakes for dinner twice a week. A common mistake is to give too much food to children, they have little tummies and fill up easily. Keep portions small and offer seconds if required.

If you are introducing a new food for children, for example carrots, don’t give them a whole heap of carrots, they are likely to turn their nose up at them and this is when the battles pursue. Instead give them 3 or 4 carrot slices, they have to get used to the new taste and they will do this over time, and in small amounts. The next time you are serving carrots give them 6 or 7, and so on until they are familiar with the taste and not objecting to eating it. It takes 7 tries for a taste to become familiar.

Only introduce one new taste at a time, presever with small amounts until they have become accustomed to it before introducing the next taste.

Food for children should come with choices, let them feel that they are in control of what they are eating, but word the choices carefully so that while they are making the choice you are achieving your goal of getting them to eat properly. Don’t ask “Do you want sauce with your pasta?” because that is giving them the option to say no, and the wholesome vegetables and meat are in the sauce. Instead ask “Do you want the sauce poured over the pasta, or do you want it beside the pasta.” My 18 year old son still eats his baked beans on a separate plate to the rest of his food, but he eats them, and they are a low fat high protein food.

Don’t ask “Do you want vegetables?” ask “Which vegetable would you like today, broccoli or cauliflower?” You never know, they may surprise you and say ‘both’.

Sit and eat with you child. Children learn by example, and most will want to emulate their parents.

Praise you child when they eat well, but do not reward good eating with sweets and treats. A better plan is to have a star chart and when its filled they can have a reward, maybe a day at the zoo, or a cinema trip movie of their choice.

It’s great to allow children to feed themselves as soon as possible, again they will feel more in control, having said that some children prefer to be feed by an adult and eat more this way. Give them plenty of time to eat, try not to rush them.

If your child says they have had enough remove the food. Contrary to popular belief it is not necessary to eat everything on your plate! They will know when they have had enough.

Don’t get upset with your child if they refuse to eat what you have prepared, sometimes this can be another way for them to receive attention, so it is better to remove the plate and wait until they are hungry enough to ask for something to eat.

Never try to force feed your child. This can lead to major issues around food.

Never bride your child with promises of sweets and desserts if they eat up, it’s a bad habit to get them into.

At Tír na nÓg we offer healthy, nourishing home cooked food for children, every day, and we will keep you informed of how your child eats throughout the day. We have a three week rotating menu, which we alter seasonally.

If you have concerns with regard to your child’s eating habits consult your GP.

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