Why are kids, and food, and meal times always so challenging?
Moms, do you struggle with meal times? Is it tough to get your kids to eat? Do you have a plan for how you’ll respond to them asking to not eat something? Do you use food to get your kids to do (or not do) something?

Here are some tips from what we do when it comes to food and meal times.

1. Limit snacks – I know, I know, the kids are ALWAYS asking for them. But stick to just 2 a day. One in the morning at about 10:30am, and one in the afternoon at about 3pm. Choose healthy options and set the portion size for them. I use THESE CUPS. If it can fit in there, then they can have it. Know what the kids are eating and how much. Letting them get hungry is NOT a bad thing. I’ve found it actually helps them not be so picky at meal time.

homemade Chocolate Crisp Protein Bars and blueberries-post school snack
Post-school Snack: homemade Chocolate Peanut Butter Crisp Protein Bars and blueberries

2. Schedule ahead – Have a plan and stick to it. I love to plan my meals a month in advance. I’ve even done some year ahead planning…but that’s for another post! Weekly planning works too. You get the idea, if you have kids I cannot encourage you enough to get a plan in place. First, put together a list of meals that are “go-to” recipes, which you know will go over well (ex: breakfast for dinner is always a hit in my home). Next, choose some things that are seasonal. Last, add some new things you want the family to try. Rotate between those groups on your meal plan.

3. Encourage your kids to help cook – One of my least favorite things EVER is swimming in water that isn’t clear. If I can’t see what’s in it, I don’t like it one bit! Same goes for kids with food. Sometimes simply letting them see every ingredient will get them to a place where they are willing to try it.
Letting kids help cook4. Don’t manipulate with food – Teach your kids the benefits of eating good food. Give sweets or treats because it’s special, not as a reward for performing. Don’t handle food with kids the same way you would with a puppy.

5. You don’t have to like it, but you will try it. This is the method we have adopted in our home. I refuse to make more than one meal. Note: obviously if you have a child on baby food or soft foods this will not apply. I’m not sure if you are familiar with a show called Daniel Tiger, but we LOVE this little show and the “Trying New Foods” episode is one of our all time favorites. Cue song: “you’ve gotta try new foods ‘cuz it might taste goooood!”
Kate and Crew at mealtime6. Share meals together – I cannot stress this enough. Make it a priority to sit down together, as a family, with one another. Talk about the day, not the food. I cannot tell you how many times the children get so wrapped up in sharing stories they do not even realize they are eating the food. And one child will often encourage another to try something and it works.

Example: My little 2 year old, Crew, refused to eat his meatloaf one night. We had all finished dinner, and his plate was set aside for whenever he was willing to return to it. One of the other kids encouraged him to try it. Finally, he did! And he responded (and I quote),  “ohhhh ya, mama, I DO wike meatwoaf!”

7. Educate the kids as they grow – In every day conversation, teach your kids about food groups: protein, carbs, sugar, fruits, vegetables. Teach them about over-eating, under-eating, how their bodies feel, and what they need. My kids now know when they are feeling certain ways it is because they need certain foods or need to stop eating certain foods.

I’ll end with a story:
One night I bought a large container of vanilla ice cream for the kids. We were celebrating something big and we wanted to treat them to something special. I sat all five kids up on the barstools and told them it was THEIR choice to add and eat whatever and however much they desired. I gave them each as many scoops as they wanted and set out hot fudge, sprinkles, whipped cream, chocolate chips, and cherries for their choosing.

Of course their eyes bugged out, their faces lit up, and the cheering started.

Oh, the joy and delight as each child piled on as much as they desired! And away they went shoving in their mouths as much as they could!

I’m sure it’s pretty obvious how the story turns out, but I’ll tell it anyway. About 40 minutes later they were bent over with tummies in pain. ALL of them saying they might throw up. They all laid down in the living room floor holding their bellies.

And I gently, lovingly, patiently used that as a teaching opportunity. 🙂

I taught them about quantity and choosing good portion sizes. I taught them about sugar, what it does to our brain, our stomachs, and our bodies. I also asked them to remember how they felt at that very moment the next time I told them “no” to sweets.

It was not AT ALL a shaming thing. The conversation ended and I believe they felt loved, cared for, and far more knowledgable!

Now it’s not a cure-all, but it might be the closest thing to one. When I talk about different food groups, they have a much deeper interest and understanding into what I’m talking about. They often ask questions about what food group an item is in and whether or not their choice is a good one. It is normal, everyday conversation that makes for some much more peaceful eating.

Cheers to you and happier family food times!

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This post is really helpful. We already use some of these strategies and there are some great ideas for improvement. I would love to know more about your meal planning methods. Currently, my goal is one big trip per month with weekly quick trips for produce and milk. I like to pack lunch for days when we are driving a lot (to keep mama from hitting up the drive-thru) I am always looking for fun (and easy to prep/pack) lunch ideas.

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