You may know children who are picky eaters, or who refuse to try new foods, or even those who exhibit bad behavior at mealtime. As food patterns develop early, parents need to guide young children toward having good attitudes about food and mealtimes.
Here are hints for establishing good eating patterns in childhood.
Don’t force children to eat everything on their plates. Sometimes food helpings are larger than needed so don’t expect them to eat everything. Sometimes children do not feel like eating, just as happens to adults. Encourage the sampling of all food but children should not be made to sit at the table until everything is eaten. You can imagine the kind of feelings toward food this action represents.
Don’t scold or nag about poor eating habits. Yes, children need to know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behavior. But the constant talk and attention to “eat all your vegetables” or “sit up straight” raises the tension level at the table. Relax and enjoy the food and company.
Don’t reward or punish with food. We all know the dangers of “if you eat all your food you can have ice cream (or add any favorite food)”, or “if you’re good, you can have cake”. Food, including cake or ice cream, should not be a bargaining tool. If it’s a planned part of the meal, it should be available for all. Those that use treats for good behavior or punishment are using food as a means of gaining control. Food is nourishment and should be considered as such, as well as for enjoyment.
Mealtime is an important part of the day. Sharing food with family and/or friends is one of the pleasures of life. If children are included in family conversations and are given lots of positive attention at mealtime and other times, they won’t have to resort to undesirable behavior.
What are other ways you have tried to establish good eating habits for children?
Here’s to developing healthy eating habits,
Lee Jackson, CFCS
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