Ending the Food Battle

Do you constantly have fights about food with your kids? This mom asks how to end the daily battles over food with her three little ones. The solution is surprisingly simple—and effective.

Q: We are having many battles over food in our house. We have boys ages five, three and one. The older boys go to preschool and are usually going without an adequate breakfast. They are offered food that they generally like, but seem uninterested in eating much in the mornings.

Additionally, they know that they are not allowed to have a snack until the previous meal has been finished. Even though this has been a long-standing rule, they are constantly asking for snacks. 

Our 5-year-old generally eats well at dinner without much complaining. However, our 3 year old (who is already quite thin) seems to care less about dinner.  My husband sometimes sits with him and feeds him, but I am more inclined to have him choose between dinner and bedtime. He sometimes chooses to eat, but often chooses to go to bed.

Any tips on how we could better approach the food related challenges we are having?

A: A nutritionist told me that for preschoolers, one should look at the entire week’s worth of food intake, rather than a single meal or day. That has certainly helped me not obsess with how much or how little my kids were eating.

Preschoolers (and that’s all of your children!) grow a lot, both physically and mentally, and therefore need tend to want to eat constantly. Some kids get up hungry, while others are not hungry until mid-morning. Other kids tank up at breakfast and lunch, then peter out at the dinner table.

What to do with your boys? Try this. First, stop sitting and coaxing and making food such a big deal. It’s fuel for our bodies, and yes, sometimes it taste great! There are foods that our bodies need to eat (veggies, fruit, protein, carbs) and foods that are fun to eat (ice cream and sweets). It’s good to give kids a wide variety of foods, but it’s not good to expect them to like all of those foods. It takes between 5 and 10 introductions to a new food (such as a vegetable, for example) before a kid can decide if he likes it or not.

Second, serve them what they like to eat for breakfast and lunch, give them healthy snacks (a cheese stick, protein bars, fruit, carrot sticks, raisins, etc. If they’re hungry, they will eat the food offered. If they’re not, then they won’t—pretty simple stuff), and then give them a tiny bite of each dish served for dinner. Then they can have seconds of anything on the table after they clean their plate. If they don’t, then you can either wrap the plate for breakfast offering or send them to bed (because boys who can’t eat their dinner must be extra hungry).

Remember to consider the intake of an entire week rather than one day, and I think you’ll find your boys are eating plenty.

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