As a Feeding Therapist, I find myself having a good deal of food-related conversations with my friends or acquaintances that I meet. After all, feeding kids can be one of the most frustrating tasks that a parent faces, and sometimes a good commiseration sesh is in order! I’ve seen pretty much every imaginable mealtime challenge, so when my friends vent to me about their various feeding grievances, I can usually provide a suggestion in addition to a sympathetic ear.
Most of the time, my advice isn’t necessarily reinventing the wheel. I’ll share tactics that have worked for my girls, or general foundational strategies that can be built upon. In the course of discussion, I often learn that these fellow parents already have an idea of ways to improve meals, but either the task seems too daunting, or they’re not sure how to get the ball rolling.
I decided that it might be helpful to compile some points that can help set your child (and family!) up for success when tackling mealtime struggles.
1. Get on the same page: In feeding therapy, I try to meet with both parents (when applicable) as much as possible. This is because I have learned that each parent may have different areas of frustration and different goals for mealtimes. If parents aren’t in agreement going into a meal, it’s likely that kids are going to get bombarded with too many prompts, be given conflicting instructions, or hear their parents argue about who is right and who is wrong. Not to mention, decisions don’t typically play out well when they’re made in the heat of the moment when frustration is high. Talk things out one-on-one, before you approach the meal.
2. Pick a primary area of improvement: When it seems like nothing is going right at mealtimes, it can be tempting to turn the whole routine on its head. Not to say that a drastic change can’t have positive results, but for parents who have busy lives (outside of feeding kids) and may not be able to devote themselves to the planning and consistent execution of a total mealtime overhaul, you might be biting off more than you can chew (ha ha). You will be more likely to achieve sustainable improvement if you pick one goal to work on. Want to work toward having your child stay seated at the table? Sounds good. Would you like your child to tolerate non-preferred foods on their plate? Great! Start there, and when you see improvement, tackle your next goal.
3. Make family-wide changes: Even if one of your kids is a “better” eater than the other(s), it can be helpful to make mealtime expectations that everyone (even grown-ups) follow. This can help to prevent your picky child from feeling singled out and can actually improve everyone’s meals.
4. Stick to the change you make: I know that at the end of the day, time can be short, patience can be in short supply, and kids can be running out of steam. Plan ahead to make sure that you can execute your plan on a consistent basis. If your child knows what to expect day to day, you will see faster improvement. This may mean meal prepping, moving dinner time earlier (to prevent overtired kids) or later (so that both parents are home and available to help), creating a visual meal plan or schedule for your child to reference, etc. Be reasonable with yourself and what you’re capable of implementing on a daily basis.
I hope that these strategies may help you to feel more in control of the direction your mealtimes are headed. Don’t focus on the end goal, focus on making progress!