Can mealtimes be fun? Sometimes when struggling to get children to eat their dinner fun is the last adjective many parents would use to describe mealtimes. It can be pleasurable though. Here are a few ideas to help make it a reality.
Decide on your expectations and consequences
Have a discussion with your child about what your expectations are when it comes to mealtimes. It may not be much of a discussion with a one or two year old but you can still state the rules such as sitting down to eat or feet off the table; you know the charming things that toddlers like to do. With older children be clear and calm when letting them know how you expect them to behave at the table. And of course the big C word – consistency. Ensure that both you and your partner agree with expected behaviours and stick to it. It does take some effort initially but in the long term it is a lot less stressful than continually having to fight with your children at the table.
The battle of the vegetable can also cause a lot of arguments. With my first child I wanted to avoid these arguments as much as possible. I didn’t want him to hate certain foods because he had been forced to eat them. The problem was I became a pushover. My son realized that he could make mum give him anything he wanted. His list of dislikes grew bigger and bigger until most nights I was making him a peanut butter sandwich for dinner! I had thought that because my husband and I eat lots of vegetables and eat dinner with him most nights that he would learn to love them as much as we do, he just needed time. Time did not help. Once we got to the peanut butter stage I knew things had to change! And change they did.
From that point on there were no special meals. If he didn’t like what was dished up for dinner then it was a long time till breakfast. There were a few early morning calls of “I’m hungry” but he soon got used to the idea that he had to wait for breakfast. I’d like to say that he now eats everything but at 6 years old he is still what I consider a fussy eater but he is getting better and his list of dislikes is gradually growing shorter. He still chooses to go to bed without dinner some nights but that is his choice and he usually just eats a bigger breakfast.
Another strategy we used alongside this was the vegetable agreement. About a six months ago my husband and I came to an agreement with our son that he would eat five vegetables without complaint or argument. He chose which five vegetables, with a little assistance from me. Our side of the bargain was that we would not say anything about any other vegetables he did not eat. Huge praise for any bonus vegetables that he does eat though. This has worked fantastically. The few times he has resisted any of the vegetables we simply remind him that we made an agreement and we have stuck to our part and he needs to stick to his. We have the list of vegetables written in the kitchen so that he can be reminded if necessary. There has been no need for punishment or consequences as he accepts that he made the agreement. He now feels free to try a few extra vegetables as well such as mushroom and cauliflower. Mushrooms were a winner but cauliflower still doesn’t make the grade. We are slowly getting there. The important thing for me is that he is trying and the arguments and stress have been minimised.
Focus off food
Eating together is a great time to talk to your children. We use the strategy of asking what the favourite part of their day was and we share our favourite parts with them. We also ask about their least favourite. This way they get a chance to talk about things that are bothering them. Getting the conversations going helps to make mealtimes more enjoyable and allows everyone to focus on something other than food.
Eating at the table promotes discussion, better behaviour and more awareness of what is being eaten. Wherever possible eat with your child, as most people like to eat in company. This is true of children as much as adults. Children learn best by observing and trying to be like you.
If you find that every meal is a battle between you and your children try to break the cycle by dishing up meals that your children like and you are happy to serve. My children love pizza. We make our own so I can add grated courgette and carrot to the pasta sauce, add vegetables like mushrooms as a topping. The kids get what they love and I am still happy to serve it to them. I have included the recipe below. The pizza sauce is super easy and the base can be substituted with pita pockets or store bought bases to make it faster. Although I have to say the homemade bases are definitely worth the effort.
Some other meals guaranteed to bring smiles are hamburgers and tortillas. Filled with mince, cheese, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce etc these are a great child pleaser while still being good for them. Kids love food that they can pick up in their hands to eat.
As the weather gets warmer take meals outside. You will probably get better behaviour from your children if they sit at a table but a blanket spread on the ground is great way to enjoy lunch. You may need to modify your expectations but still be clear what these are.
Remember to praise the behaviours you do like. Focus on the positives. Decide on consequences if the behaviour is not acceptable.
The more you can be relaxed around mealtimes, the more relaxed the children will be.
Start as you mean to go on – don’t wait for your child to get older to learn to love vegetables or sit nicely at the table. The sooner they are introduced to your expectations the more likely it is that they will follow them.
500g high grade flour (standard flour works ok as well)
325ml lukewarm water (should be body temperature)
Dissolve the yeast in water.
Add to flour and salt.
Knead for approximately 8 minutes.
Place the dough in a bowl and cover lightly. Leave in a warm area to double in size.
Roll out to the desired size. This quantity covers approximately two oven trays or three pizza trays.
2 tbsp olive oil
½ onion diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp sugar
grated vegetables eg, carrot, courgette or finely chopped spinach
oregano, basil, and/or marjoram, fresh or dried
Heat the oil in a frypan and fry the onions without colour.
Just before the onions become soft add the garlic. Continue to fry for 2 minutes.
Tip in the tomatoes, vinegar and sugar, grated carrot.
Leave simmering until the sauce is thick, approximately 15 minutes.
Add the herbs and spinach or courgette if used.
Spread over the pizza bases. You will probably have some left over for your next pasta dish.
Quantities have been given but this sauce is all about your taste so experiment a little.
Grated tasty cheese – the tastier it is the less you will need
Chicken, quickly fry in a pan first
Sprinkle your chosen toppings over the sauce. Finish with the cheese.
Bake in a hot oven 220°C for 8 mins. Pre-heating the oven is essential for a crisp base.
Kids love helping to make these.