I recently went to Portland to visit my son and his family. While we were talking, he shared with me the frustrations at dinnertime that he has with his 10-year-old stepson. My son is an excellent cook and an adventurous eater. His stepson, not so much…his tastes are a bit more limited, as with most kids his age. Dinner times are becoming…a “food fight”. A time of frustration, hurt feelings, and power struggles. It’s not easy to step into the role of a “step” parent…or to be the “step” kid. I asked my son for permission before sharing a few strategies.
- If you are dishing out the food, start with age appropriate portions, and the minimum of each food that you expect your child to eat before having seconds or dessert. Too much food on a child’s plate can be overwhelming to them. Also, in this day and age of “supersize” everything, it is important for them (and us too) to know what a “portion” size is. Here’s a good visual of portion sizes.
- Once the food is served, it is your child’s food. STAY OUT OF IT! Do not beg, bargain (“Just eat 3 more bites of this…and you can have more of that…”) or try to control what or how much they eat. The way to stay out of this is: Have an understood rule that they can have more of what they want when they have eaten what is on their plate.
- Always talk about what they CAN have, not what they CAN’T have. “You can have more meatloaf when you have eaten what is on your plate.” vs “You can’t have more meatloaf until you eat your peas.” When you phrase it in the positive, it puts your child at choice and allows you to step out of the power struggle.
- Then…(and this is the hardest part) shut up and let them choose. Do NOT say, “You know the rule about having more.” If they choose not to finish what is on their plate, don’t get to have seconds, and would rather go hungry than eat their peas, don’t feel guilty. Respect their choice. They will not starve before the next meal. And never say, “I told you you’d be hungry later.” If they don’t already know this, it’s time they figured it out. Like I said….”The hardest part”…
- When they do eat their meal, don’t make a big deal out of that either. Children don’t need to be praised for eating. Focus on the quality of relationship that you now enjoy during the meal since you have stopped battling about food with your kids.
- When the meal is over, it’s over. Don’t hold the food for the next meal. Don’t talk about how “last night you chose not to eat…” Each meal starts fresh with new food, same rule.
Remember ~ Laughter aids digestion. Food is the way we nourish our bodies. Relationships are how we nourish our soul. Keep mealtime conversation and interactions as pleasant as possible. Enjoy the food. Focus on the relationship.
Want more practical tips and techniques? My next workshop starts May 24, 2011. Get the details and register on my Upcoming Workshops page.
Great article. I like the concrete tips and useful strategies. Food is such an integral part of family life. It’s so important to find a way for families to ENJOY this time together rather than being locked in struggle. Thanks for taking the time to write this.
Thanks for your comments. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. May you have many pleasant and enjoyable meals.