The 5 Rules of Engagement provide a few suggested changes that can mean that dinner time becomes a place of enjoyment and food discovery, rather than the nightly battle field.
Rule 1: Timing Is Everything
The timing of your little one’s meals is more important than you think. Little appetites may not last as long as adults and a child can go from being absolutely ravenous one minute to losing their appetite altogether the next. The solution is to feed children small meals every 2 ½ -3 hours.
Rule 2: Sit At The Table And Turn Off Distractions
Sitting down to dinner as a family has many benefits. It enables the family to interact and parents or older siblings to lead by example. Having a familiar routine or a set meal time and a regular spot for their meals is also recommended.
Rule 3: Try Something New
Seeing a new food for the first time can send your child running for the hills and simply having this food on their plate can cause severe anxiety. The key to getting them to try something is setting easy steps to overcome this fear.
Step 1 – Let your child touch and feel the food
Step 2 – Encourage them to smell and kiss or lick the food
Step 3 – Cut a small piece for them to hold in their front teeth
Step 4 – Place the small piece on their back teeth
Step 5 – Encourage them to bite down
Rule 4: Don’t Force Feed
A very common question asked by parents is ‘How much does my little one need?’. The answer is that children tend to know themselves. Generally, when a child says they are full, it is true. Kids’ stomachs are around the size of their clenched fist, so filling up this little tummy happens quickly. Hence, healthy snacks between main meals become essential for providing a balanced diet. Making children finish everything on their plate only encourages force-feeding and may lead to poor eating habits in later life. Remember, appetites can be related to growth cycles, which flatten out at times.
Rule 5: Don’t Bribe With Food
‘If you eat your dinner, you can have some ice-cream’ has been a catchphrase we have heard for generations. It is a trap that parents fall into since children expect a sweet or treat after every meal (even the way you say it teaches little ones to look forward to the treat more than their meal). So for younger children, talk about the food on their plate or play colour games with it and for older children, talk about how fast they can run or how tall they may grow when they eat certain foods. As a reward, offer a game after dinner or a reading of their favourite story.