What can I do?
Give up the struggle.
You can only offer kai - you can’t make kids eat it. Forcing or bribing them to eat can override children's natural food instincts and could do more harm than good. Forcing kids to eat can turn what could have been a happy family meal time into an ordeal. And shouting and yelling at mealtimes can set up a negative pattern towards food and eating.
Offer foods but don't push it.
Calmly encourage them to try at least one mouthful of a new food, but don’t force it. It can take a few tries before kids like something new. Kids’ taste buds are more sensitive than adults - so what tastes great to you might not to them. Think about giving them choices- babies might happily accept mush, but independent toddlers may prefer food separated so they can identify what’s on their plate and eat it their way.
Encourage them to eat.
Talk about colours, shapes, textures of the food they have. Give a new food a fun name to get their interest – ‘monster mash’ etc. For a change, you could try spoon feeding them if you’re really worried they’re not getting enough. Even older kids sometimes enjoy being fed like younger family members.
Kids might be more likely to eat meals if snacks aren’t always available. If they don’t want to eat at meal times, don’t provide snacks to fill them up before the next meal (although you could bring forward the next meal a little). Monitor how much they drink too - they could feel full from lots of fluids.
Limit distractions at meal times. Turn off the television and other devices such as mobile phones and computers. Try to encourage all family members to be at the table at the same time. Bring the family’s focus back to the food and conversation!
Cook and eat together.
When you eat together as a whole whānau, kids quickly learn that everyone eats the same thing at the same time. Try to avoid making separate food for them as much as possible. Instead offer small amounts of what everyone else is eating. Get them to help you make the kai -they may be more interested in it if they've had a hand in preparation.
Avoid waste and stress.
Cover their leftovers, put them in the fridge, to offer them later if they’re hungry before the next mealtime. Only offer small amounts at a time let them decide whether they want more. Cut fruit/veges into smaller pieces to avoid the ‘one bite wonder’.
Try to keep your cool.
It’s not easy to stay calm when you’ve worked hard to make dinner and your child refuses to even try it. Or if they knock over a drink and then as soon as you refill it they do it again. (only offer small amounts to make any mishaps less). But losing your temper won’t help anything - it’ll just make them scared of you. Think about how you’d feel if someone yelled at you if you spilled your coffee.
Try writing down everything they eat in a day.
You might be surprised what they’ve eaten - they may be snacking more than you think and just aren’t hungry. Look at what they’ve eaten over a week and see if there are any food groups they’re not having at all. If there are, think about ways you can offer them combined with other food they do like e.g. grate veges into mince, blend an egg into a banana smoothie.
Make clean up easy for everyone's sake.
Keep paper towels handy for spillages. Put plastic or newspaper under the table so dropped food is easy to clean up. Tuck a tea towel into the neck of their t-shirt rather than stress over stains on clothes or let them eat with no top on. If they start throwing food, it’s a sign they’re definitely not hungry so end the meal!
Limit food throwing frustration.
Throwing or dropping food is great fun for young kids - especially when they get a reaction from you. Keep it to a minimum by:
- sitting with them while they eat so you can step in quickly
- giving them small amounts of food at a time and waiting until they’ve finished
- keeping calm when it happens and reminding them that food belongs in their mouths
If it keeps happening, they’re bored not hungry – take the food away and clean them up.
And what about you?
Over it? Use your phone timer to set a time limit for a play activity – your full attention for five minutes is better than half pai for longer.
Had enough? You may feel like you need alcohol or drugs to relax – but they often make the situation worse, especially when you have to deal with kids. Who could help you cut down or cut it out?