Some of you, many of you, remember what dinner time was like a few decades back. Didn't like your peas and carrots? Tough. Eat 'em. Didn’t want to eat 'em? Fine, sit there all night. Or maybe you'll see them again at breakfast, lunch and dinner until they're gone.
For some kids, meals may be like that still, but experts now boil tips for feeding your children down to two main parts.
“Parents are responsible for having healthy food in the house at meal times,” says Sheri Caldwell, a dietician and culinary nutritionist at Hy-Vee.
“A child’s responsibility is to choose what they’ll eat and how much.”
Wait, then what should you do if your child hasn’t cleaned his plate?
“Do nothing,” says Dr. Karl Kosse, a pediatrician. “If they don’t eat, they’re not hungry.”
Kids go through phases with eating, both agree, and with some kids, from about 18 months until they’re 5 years old, it may seem like they’ve stopped eating entirely.
At the same time, Dr. Kosse says, kids are going through growth spurts and thin out. He often sees concerned parents who point out their children’s visible ribs. But that’s normal, he says, as long as they’re where they should be on the growth chart and have a healthy BMI, they’re not starving.
And young children, especially toddlers, Ms. Caldwell says, have a hard time sitting at the table. There’s just so much exploring to do.
Ms. Caldwell recommends having structured meal times, with some flexibility as needed.
And be patient, she cautions.
“Children need to be introduced to a new food 15 or 20 times until they’re willing to try it.”
Avoid power struggles by offering a variety of foods at each meal, knowing that you have one or two things your picky eater will actually eat. Don’t bribe or cajole or threaten for risk of making meal time unpleasant and giving kids anxiety about eating.
Get your kids involved in the process, she says. Let them help pick out interesting fruits and veggies at the store, and let them help you cook, whether it’s snapping the peas or pouring, mixing and stirring.
Do not become a short-order cook, Ms. Caldwell says. What’s for dinner is what the family is eating, and if your child doesn’t like anything that’s offered, they can wait until the next meal.
“Don’t make a second meal they might like,” Dr. Kosse agrees.
Also keep portions in mind, she says. Kids eat much less and need much less food on their plates than their grown-ups do. If they say they’re full, believe them.
Finally, don’t be surprised if your kids prefer junk food. Most of us do.
Dr. Kosse sometimes sees frustrated parents who come in, exasperated with their little eaters, and tell him: “My kid eats nothing but Ding Dongs and Ho Hos.”
“I say, quit giving them Ding Dongs and Ho Hos,” he says.
Instead, keep things simple. Offer your kids a variety of healthy foods.
“How much they eat,” he says, “is none of your business.”