Managing Mealtimes with Children During COVID-19
With all that is going on in the world - and in our homes - right now, one of the last things we have the time, energy, and patience to navigate are mealtime battles. It is easy for mealtime to become a dreaded, painful time in the midst of our never-ending days.
Fear not! Here are the top tried and true tips that you can implement to begin to foster peace during family meals and limit common mealtime struggles, maybe even making mealtime a time you look forward to each day :).
Tip #1: Aim to offer at least two familiar foods with each meal/snack. It is MORE than okay to serve your child something new, or even something they typically don’t touch(in fact, I’d encourage it). But, for each meal you serve, I’d recommend offering at least two familiar, preferred foods. Your child will find comfort in seeing those familiar foods. When a child is feeling calm and at ease, this may increase the likelihood that they choose to take a bite or two of something less familiar.
Tip #2: When serving a new or perhaps highly undesired food, offer a small portion. If your child doesn’t love veggies to begin with, seeing a plate half full of broccoli is a tantrum just waiting to happen :). Absolutely continue to serve new and undesired foods(exposure is SO important!) but do so in small amounts. Think even just one or two pieces of broccoli - this will likely feel much less overwhelming for a child.
Tip #3: Avoid pressuring or policing. Whether during a global pandemic or not, pressuring children to eat certain foods will backfire - both now and in the long run. Telling your child over and over to eat those two pieces of broccoli is more likely to result in them further rejecting an already undesired food. Policing your child’s food intake will likely result in continued anxiety-filled mealtimes for both of you. Instead, opt of curiosity; sit back and observe - free of judgement - if and how your child chooses to interact with the food they were served.
Tip #4: If dessert is an option, offer it with the main meal. Bribing a child to eat their two pieces of chicken before they can have a cookie will accomplish two things: It teaches your child that the cookie should be more desirable than the chicken, and it increases any dislike that your child may already have towards chicken. Cookies will become highly sought after; chicken will not. Instead, offer a small portion of cookie alongside the chicken. This reinforces to your child that there is nothing more or less desirable about either option and they have the freedom to choose what feels best to them in that moment.
Tip #5: Use this time to connect. As you try to balance parenting, homeschooling, and your day-to-day work, it’s probably pretty likely that there are few moments throughout your day where you are able to sit down and give your child(ren) your undivided attention. Mealtime is an ample opportunity for this. If you are all able to sit and eat together, take advantage of this time to talk and enjoy each other’s company when possible. There is more to mealtime than the food - it is an important opportunity for valuable social connection.