September 9

How to Stop Mealtime Tantrums


Top 3 Tips for reducing teatime tantrums

If you have a toddler, chances are you have had to deal with mealtime tantrums and all-out refusal to even try the food that has been laid out before them. For some of us it's part of our everyday routine and there is not always any rhyme or reason to it, yesterday's favourite food can become today's battleground. There are so many reasons why children may decide they do not want to eat.

But this sort of behaviour day in and day out, every single meal is completely draining, and exhausting for the entire family. It's no wonder so many parents, at their wits end, succumb to their child's demands and start to rely on the same old favourites. So the family can enjoy their meal together and have a nice relaxing evening, instead of battling it out till someone gives in (usually the parents).

The problem with doing this is firstly, it's habit forming and the more you let your child win in the early days, the harder it will be to break those habits later on. And your child will grow up thinking all they have to do is tantrum and they can get whatever they want, whenever they want.

Secondly; if you stop exposing your child to new foods, they are never going to become familiar with those new foods so they will never form preferences for them. Increasing their likelihood of becoming fussy eaters later, and the longer you let that go on for the harder it will be to introduce new foods.

Thirdly; the foods toddlers tend to prefer are the high salt, high sugar, energy dense ultra processed foods that have very little nutritional content. So you are setting them up for a lifetime of poor health, missed school days, and missed opportunities.

Today I just want to talk about 3 of the biggest pitfalls that most of us will have fallen into. That are instant hurdles when it comes to getting our children to sit down and, at least, try a family meal.

1) Grazing throughout the day

So many of us fall into this trap, it is extremely easy to unthinkingly say yes to a request  for one tiny little snack. The problem is that a poorly timed snack too close to a meal is going to fill up any little tummy, reducing your chances of success to slim to none. Even a glass of milk 30 minutes before a meal can be just enough to make whatever you have lovingly prepared look completely unappetising. 

Quite often, we just don't realise how much our kids are eating. A small yoghurt here, a little pack of crisps there, and a snack bar in between. However, if you sit and tally up the energy intake of what your child is actually consuming throughout the day, they probably are having way more calories than they need for their age. 

Not that I'm about calorie counting at all, especially for children. But sometimes it can be a good idea to roughly estimate what your child eats throughout the day so you can evaluate and adjust your (and their) expectations.

And that's why keeping to a schedule can be really useful for kids. Children often do really well with routine. It also means they always know foods not too far away so there's no panic eating because they are "starving" and they don't know what time lunch will be ready at.

You can also sit with them and decide what they are going to have each day so; a) you are giving them some autonomy in their food choices and b) you know exactly how much they are eating. Say one less healthy snack in the morning and a slightly more nutritious munch in the afternoon.

For us, we always stick to 2 snacks a day, one in the morning around 10/10.30 and an afternoon snack around 3pm. That way there is never that long in between meals but still plenty of time to get hungry so she is more likely to try whatever I have prepared.

2) Limiting exposure to the junk

Okay, I am not going to lie, this is probably THE most difficult one on the list, because it means limiting our own exposure to snacks. In an ideal world we would simply stop buying the junk foods but if you find the willpower to do that, please tell me how because I haven't managed yet!!

Depending on the age of your child, you may get away with hiding the chocolate and other goodies in a high up cupboard and only eating them when your child is out of the room. But children are extremely perceptive and you probably won't get away with that for very long. As your child gets older, they will know all your hiding places and I'm guessing they will figure out a way to reach them, no matter how high up you put them (the snacks, not your child).The best thing you can do here is make the more processed snacks out of sight in harder to reach spots, and always have healthy snacks out in easily accessible spots. Even if your child does not go for these snacks. The fact that they are on display will start to build familiarity for your child which will start to build curiosity and the chances of them trying them later on. 

Just remember children need around 15 or 16 interactions with new foods before they start building preference so just having them within eye-line can count as interactions.

3)Thinking they are too young to get involved

I speak to so many parents who really struggle to juggle entertaining the kids, preparing dinner and keeping their sanity. But it really doesn't have to be an either or situation. You can do all 3 and use it as some quality family bonding time to boot!!

Amber has always been in the kitchen with me while I have prepared meals. Before she could even sit up herself I would plonk her in her Bumbo seat, on the counter and hand her wooden spoons, random vegetables or a tupperware container filled with various dried lentils, rice or beans. 

As she got older I would give her a bowl and let her transfer various ingredients from one container to the other or I'd pull out all the pots and pans and let her get musical with them.

Amber is 3 and a half now and there is not a lot she can not do in the kitchen, I mean obviously she is not taking things in and out of the oven or slicing and dicing the veg (although she does have her own child friendly knives) but she does most other things and she cooks with me most meals. 

She loves being part of the process and having "responsibilities". And the best part is when she is helping prepare the ingredients quite often they are just too tempting not to eat. 

No harassing me to constantly be skipping videos on YouTube, or demanding I find things for her (that are generally right in front of her face), or nagging for snacks. 

She's entertained, I am being productive and my sanity is in check. Granted it does slow down the whole process and there generally is a lot more tidying to do at the end, but research shows that children who are involved in the process of preparing meals are generally more likely to eat the finished product so definitely worth it.

How a child learns about food and develops eating habits is actually a really complicated process, especially in those early years, it is thought that it is more difficult than learning to walk or talk. On top of that, there's a lot going on around them to distract and deter them. Glaring lights, inappropriate seating or cutlery or amusing pets can all add to your child's unwillingness to eat. 

From their favourite tv character to the colourful packaging they see at the supermarket there are a lot of things that persuade a child to eat or not eat. So it's up to us to make it as simple and interesting as possible to make the whole experience as fun as necessary so they are more likely to eat the lovely, nutritious meals you have laboriously prepared so they can grow up healthy, strong, and thrive.


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