Most of you voted for a blog about whether or not you should send your child to bed hungry if they don’t eat dinner. Dinner can seem really tough: they’re tired, they won’t eat, they get upset, you get upset – do you send them to bed hungry or make them toast, give them cookies, milk or nuggets? It’s a question I’m often asked.
If you send your child to bed hungry they will often feel angry and resentful and be LESS likely to try the new food next time. The reason for this is that you are reinforcing their anxiety about trying new food and their food aversions. A standoff between you and your challenging eater can become overwhelming for your child, they won’t sleep well and you’ll most likely sleep badly and feel guilty, wondering if there’s another way. (There is, book a free consultation with me and find out)
Little Bites individual eating plans introduce new food to your challenging eater in a relaxed, less stressful way THEN it can be introduced at dinner time.
If dinner time is stressful there are ways to turn it around. If it’s stressful for you there’s every chance it’s also stressful for your challenging eater too. Stress will make them more resistant to the foods that are being forced onto them. Here are some things to think about and some tips to get your child to eat dinner.
Does your child eat variety through the day?
If your child eats a fruit and veg filled smoothie for breakfast, carrot sticks and apple at afternoon tea and cucumber, grapes and an egg at lunch and some meat at some point through the day then you can be a little more lenient at dinner. Lots of younger children get very tired by dinner; when they start school this can get even worse. At kindy and especially school, kids spend all day being well behaved and learning new things. Unfortunately, when they get home they are exhausted and by dinner time trying or learning something new is the last thing on their mind!
If their diet’s OK but through the day but could be better, you can squeeze some more fruits, veggies or high protein, high iron food in earlier in the day, before they burn out. If they struggle to eat healthy food at all you can book a free initial consultation with me to find out how Little Bites can help your child.
If your child eats better earlier in the day offer “dinner” at lunch and have something smaller at dinner. Or try offering the syle of food they like better – raw veggies with dip, hard boiled eggs, chicken wraps…
Does your child have an aversion to mixed food?
Stir fry, cottage pie, spaghetti bolognaise… Sometimes it’s much easier for challenging eaters to cope if you put the separate ingredients on their plate (not touching), and it’s not extra work for you! I actually have a client who came back to me and said that since starting our programme her son has learned how to try new food and will now try most things she offers him at dinner – as long as it’s on a separate plate. Check out what results other clients have had here.
Does your child have an aversion to certain textures?
What’s the one your child likes? There’s no point offering a crunch lover something very wet or soft if your main aim is that they eat “something healthy” at dinner time. Match it to your child’s preferences if you can. Want them to eat a carrot? Offer it raw or lightly steamed, even grated! If they love wet, liquidy food offer soup at dinner. If you do that, it’s much more likely that you’ll get your child to eat dinner.
Does your child snack through the day?
Children who snack are much less likely to eat at dinner time. They also rarely get hungry enough to try the new food that you’d love to add to their diet. If they snack often, offer filling foods that are healthy like nuts, eggs, veggie sticks with hummus, greek yoghurt – but not too close to dinner!
Do not bribe with pudding!
Bribing with other food reinforces “yummy” and “yucky” food. The minute you stop bribing, they will usually stop trying or eating new food.
Set them up for success: Give small portions
I know you want them to eat more not less, but if you give really small portions, you’re setting your kids up for success. They can see it’s achievable so it’s not as intimidating. If they feel proud of themselves for finishing their 3 peas and you praise them for that it’s much better for their mindset than giving them more than they can finish and having them feel like they can never finish everything. If they finish a small amount of food and want more of something that’s fine. You can build up the amount and how often they have them once you’ve taken that first small step, and that first little bite. Platter style dinners, wraps etc are good for this, just make sure they have a small amount of something healthy that they like and a small amount of something new. They won’t be going to bed hungry but will have had something nutritious.
Give small choices
Will we have peas or corn?
Which colour plate do you want; red or green?
Do you want this on top or beside the rice?
Do you want dipping sauce?
If you give 2 options kids can cope, if you give them too much control or too many choices they can’t cope, you’ll waste a lot of time and food and nothing will get any better. Small choices make the child feel in control but not overwhelmed, that’s really important when it comes to getting your child to eat dinner.
Don’t say “finish what’s on your plate”
They can finish when they’re full (but they’re full so nothing else after that unless it’s some fruit/veggie sticks or a yoghurt a couple hours later)
Kids need to listen to their body and finishing what’s on their plate will set up bad habits. It’s better to give smaller amounts and then ask “do you need more of anything or are you full?”