By Nikki Spagnolo
Getting your children to eat their vegetables at any time can be a struggle. For most parents though, dinner time can become stressful, and is often accompanied with arguments, stubbornness and defiance. And that is just from the parents. Kids often cringe at the sight of broccoli on their plate which often leads to resistance and tantrums. Children seek simplicity; if it looks tasteless, their expectation is that it probably is.
My name is Nikki Spagnolo. I am a Health Coach and Nutritionist and I am here to tell you that mealtimes do not have to be a battleground where emotions run high, food is wasted and everyone leaves the table feeling grateful that the whole experience is over.
Mealtimes are a perfect opportunity to grow as a family and connect over food and flavour.
In this guide I will give you 5 strategies, that when used consistently over time will have your children looking forward to mealtimes. Let’s reignite the family tradition of meal time peace.
Remember that change takes time. Be patient, be consistent and keep your cool.
- Bring Back The Family Dinner.
Over time, we have lost the art of family meals. With busy schedules, multiple commitments and parents’ work hours not connecting, kids often eat early while one parent is running errands. More often than not, parents consume dinner later once the kids are in bed. The main benefit for bringing back a family mealtime is the communication and connection between family members. Mealtimes are a great opportunity to connect and discover more about your child, what they like and dislike and to support them in their endeavours. If dinner is not an option due to schedules, how about breakfast?
Guidelines around mealtimes should also include:
- Eating at the dinner table, not in front of the TV, which can lead to over-eating due to the distractions.
- Keeping conversations positive from each family member. This encourages open communication between family members.
- Create a routine around meal times that allows children an opportunity to prepare themselves for the meal.
- No devices during meals – this includes parents. Humans have a need for instant gratification and this is clear when a message comes through and have to check our phone. Role model to your children that it is important to be present in the moment. Put electronic devices on flight mode during meals and let the rest of the world wait.
- Make The Reason To Eat Veggies Worth It.
Encouraging your child to eat their vegetables because they are good for them is not relatable. They have no concept as to what ‘good for you’ means. “So you don’t get a cold in winter” is irrelevant for a child.
Look for reasons that are important to the child. For example a child who loves art, maybe – “sweet potato helps you to paint with more control or helps your brain to choose the best colours”. For a child who loves sport, maybe – “broccoli helps you hit/kick the ball further”.
Choose age and interest specific information that is relevant to your child. We once had a jumping competition at dinner time as we told our girls that broccoli made you jump higher. With each bite they took, we told them how much higher they had jumped. Not to mention the laughter and fun we had that night.
- Allow Your Child’s Tastes To Develop And Not Expect Them To Love All Foods You Do.
In the beginning, we used to hide the vegetables in the kids food and also serve it on their plate. This allowed them a chance to visually see the vegetables, and taste them. It can take a child over 20 attempts to develop a taste for a particular food.
Children are also born with a natural desire for sweet and salty. With more than double the amount of taste buds that an adult has, what seems quite bland could actually be quite strong.
Add vegetables to smoothies and sauces, to ensure that children are getting the nutrients, whether they consume what is on their plate or not.