It's about more than the food
Although packing lunches and planning dinners can be stressful, your child’s nutrition is important. It is important to start early and expose your child to a variety of foods from a young age to help her make healthy and balanced choices. In addition to nutrition, meals are a wonderful way to interact with your child, as well, through involving her in preparing her lunch or engage her in conversation at the dinner table.
Tips to make mealtimes go smoothly
Combine mealtimes with family time. Every family is unique and daily family dinners may not work for everyone. Your older child may get home from an activity when your younger child is getting ready for bed. Family meals do not need to happen every day, and they don’t even have to be dinners. Even if your family makes and eats brunch together on Sundays, or goes out for pizza on Friday night, these family rituals are important and you should schedule them as often as possible.
Make a mealtime routine. Mealtimes can also be a great way to get your child to help out around the house by involving him in meal preparation, setting the table, helping with the dishes. Teach your child to do certain things without being asked, like washing his hands before dinner and clearing his dishes when he is done eating, to avoid arguments and lectures. Also, set a schedule for snacking. Although your child should not go hungry, eating balanced meals with small snacks in between is best. Constant snacking should be discouraged. Also, give him healthy options to snack on.
Keep the atmosphere pleasant. You may be tempted to discuss a bad report card, share a note from your child’s teacher, or scold her for not doing her chores, especially if dinnertime is the one of the few times your family sits down together to discuss things. However, avoid letting the dinner table become a battlefield. Mealtimes should be pleasant, without lecturing or arguing. Don’t force your child to clean her plate but instead encourage her to serve a small portion the first time and then take more later if she wants. Also, although mealtimes should not go on forever, some children do eat slower than others, so you may need to be patient.
Don't pick on picky eaters. If you have an infant who has recently started eating fruits and vegetables, you may be surprised when he one day decides that he no longer likes baby green beans and refuses to open his mouth. Children of any age can be picky. Sometimes it takes days and days of presenting the same food to a child and having him try it before he gets used to it. You do not need to force your child to eat, especially if he is healthy and eating some variety of foods, even if it’s only fruit, cereal, and milk. However, you should discuss this with your pediatrician if you are worried. Do not use dessert or even another food your child likes as a bribe because the association of food as a reward could cause your child to confuse his natural hunger signals.
Offer a few choices. When your child is young, start offering her a variety of foods. Provide a few healthy choices at mealtimes. It may take time for your child to develop a taste for some of these. While it is good to let your child choose what she wants to eat whenever possible, you may be setting yourself up for a tantrum if you leave things open-ended. Instead, give her choices, and ask her to pick some healthy sides to go with her meal of choice.
Sweet treats. Both pediatricians and dentists agree that parents should relax when it comes to sugar consumption on special occasions like birthdays or Halloween. Forbidding your child to eat sweets will make him want them more. Although dessert should not be something that comes after every meal, the occasional milk and cookie for snack, candy in the lunch box, or ice cream after dinner is ok in small portions. Try to ration your child’s intake of sweets to once a day, and make sure he brushes and flosses his teeth. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you do not give children under the age of 5 gum or hard candy because the majority of choking in children of this age is caused by those foods. Try chocolate or other soft candy options for younger children.
Give yourself a break! No one feels like cooking on a regular basis, or eating leftovers several days in a row. It’s ok to order take out or go out for dinner as a treat to yourself and your child every once in a while. And if your child just wants pizza and wants to skip the salad, it’s not the end of the world.