How to Avoid Mealtime Battles

No parent starts out wanting to engage in battles with their children at mealtimes, but it’s one of those things that can creep up on us. With good intentions, we say: “just try it”, “finish it, then you can play”, “one more piece of carrot, then you can have some yoghurt" and so on. This sounds reasonable but what happens when your child says “no”, when they refuse to try that new food or when they refuse to finish what’s on their plate? Should we push them because we want to ensure enough of the right foods are eaten? It doesn’t start out as a major battle but quite quickly, requests can become demands, demands become battles and mealtimes fall apart.

When we engage in battles at mealtimes:

  1. mealtimes are stressful;

  2. we are not trusting our children to listen to their bodies;

  3. our children learn that their eating dictates how we feel (e.g. “Eating this makes mummy happy” rather than “I eat this because I am hungry”)

 How to avoid mealtime battles:

  1. Talk about anything except eating: Pressure to eat increases your child's feeling of stress.  Stress decreases appetite. Not talking about eating takes the pressure off your child to eat.    For example; Say “Look how this pea squishes with my fork!”, “Orange, long carrots” or “What did you have fun doing today?”, rather than "Come on, eat up and then we can play" and "Just try a little".

  2. Have fun with food:  Children continually learn new skills through play, including eating new food.   Perhaps carrots are trains, broccoli stems are trees or zucchinis are beds for peas to go to sleep on.  Once your child understands that they can play with food, they may come up with their own ideas and they are much happier to try something different.

  3. Trust your child: As a parent, you are responsible for when and what your child eats and your child is responsible for whether or how much they eat. Eating is your child’s responsibility.  When your child is free to explore food without pressure to eat, they will have what their body needs and learn lifelong healthy eating habits. Read more about the Division of Responsibility by Ellyn Satter.

If you have found yourself locked into a cycle of mealtime battles, try taking a step back.  Instead of ‘getting’ your child to eat, try ‘letting’ your child eat and you’ll soon be amazed to see your child start to touch, smell, taste or chew a variety foods. Most importantly, mealtimes will become the enjoyable activity we want them to be.

Written by Nicole Wu and Rachel Smith (Mums, Speech Pathologists and Co-founders of Learn to Eat. Love to Eat).    Nicole and Rachel are passionate about preventing fussy eating in children and creating healthy eating habits for families. They run baby and toddler workshops in Melbourne  and Geelong  to help parents have more positive mealtimes with their children. 

Want to learn more? Follow us on Facebook @learntoeat.lovetoeat

Mealtime battles lead to more food refusal. 

Mealtime battles lead to more food refusal. 

Nicole Wu