My daughters look absolutely identical but are polar opposites in personality. Maybe it’s the first child versus second child thing. Maybe it’s how I have parented them – you know the first one falls over and we rush to catch them and then ice it, band aid it, check on the bruise while they are asleep VS the second one falling over and we tell them “up you get” and forget all about it before the crying has even ended. Whatever the reason for it, it doesn’t change the fact that they are POLAR OPPOSITES. So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that their eating habits are completely different just like everything else. My older girl is fussy, always has been and sometimes it’s a struggle to get a mouthful in, and my younger one eats with gusto and is a pleasure to cook for. Again, maybe it’s the first verses second child. Maybe as soon as my older daughter didn’t like something or hesitated before eating it, I quickly whisked it away and was onto cooking up the next thing for her to quickly reject. My younger daughter only received the “take it or leave it” approach and she eats pretty much everything in sight.
I remember when I was younger having to eat everything on my plate. Times have definitely changed and you don’t hear parents saying that anymore. I like to try and find the balance between that old philosophy and making sure they have had enough to help them grow (and not whinge later that they are hungry). My 3 year old has been through phases where she wouldn’t eat anything at all on her plate. I had to sing and dance (literally) and read stories to her for her to eat anything. One of the worst habits I ever got into was to introduce the Ipad during mealtime. I knew it was wrong and nothing good would come of it but at the time I had a reflux baby who was either being fed or vomiting up her feed so I needed to have something that would distract her big sister while she ate. I also hoped that it would avoid her throwing food on the floor. It saved me from doing the song and dance that I used to with each bite but inevitably the Ipad made things so much worse. I know a lot of people that do it it and obviously there are no judgments from me whatsoever (for the record there never are) but generally speaking it may work initially but then when your kids don’t have it…it totally backfires on you and even when they do, eventually they forget about eating and are just sitting there watching. “TV dinners” also contribute to obesity problems because they don’t realise what they are eating. Surely you’ve done it before?! You sit down in front of the TV just planning to eat a few chips and voila, by the first ad-break your scrounging around the bottom of the packet and licking the last little tiny crumbs off your fingers. So too with kids when they are watching the Ipad/TV…They just aren’t aware of what they are eating so you might get excited at the beginning that they are eating foods without really looking and so you can sneak in a carrot here and there but they will be onto you in no time. And then soon you’ll have a TV addiction problem as well as a food problem. (And the sleep consultant in me feels compelled to warn you about screen time before bed! Big No-No!)
Last month my daughter started giving up her day sleep at Preschool (another blog about this soon!) and so I found that she was really tired at the end of the day. Great because it’s a pleasure to put her to sleep each night but the couple hours leading up to bedtime became really loooong and difficult. This for very obvious reasons are also my tired hours (I’m convinced witching hour is not really confined to kids – mothers get it too) and throw a younger toddler into the mix and I just found I wasn’t enjoying dinnertime with my girls anymore. I would end up putting the kids to bed and instead of breathing that normal sigh of relief that I made it through another day, I would feel a wave of guilt. Was I too short with them? Did I shout unnecessarily? Was I impatient? They are only little. Was I expecting too much?
After a couple of weeks of this almost daily guilt I decided to change a lot about the goings on of dinner time. I made some changes and I thought I would share them with you. I’ll offer you the “take it or leave it” approach… Feel free to try it out, it may work for you, it may not. It certainly has worked for me.
1. Move dinnertime earlier. Much Earlier:
We get home at about 4pm. I don’t give them afternoon tea generally. Maybe a little very light snack like a few crackers or sultanas. They eat dinner by 4:45. I know it sounds ridiculously early and lots of people worry that they will be hungry later. The earlier dinnertime means that they are really hungry so willingly eat much better. They also are happier. They haven’t gotten to that crazy, beyond exhausted state. I sit down at the table and chat with them. I’m also more patient at this time. I then give them a delicious fruit platter dessert a little later when and if they are hungry.
2. Have an appropriate table and chairs:
I had a gorgeous white gloss table with designer ghost chairs for them. It was exactly what I would have loved for my own dining room. The bottom line was though they weren’t comfortable for them and the chairs were too high so they weren’t able to fit under the tables properly. I got rid of them and replaced it with an Ikea Kids pink table with mint green chairs that were actually part of a set. What a difference it made. They are cleverly designed and made properly for kids so they can sit more comfortably at the table and can get up and down by themselves. I too can happily sit with them at their table, which they love me doing.
3. Stop worrying about conventional dinners:
I know I’m not a nutritionist and don’t claim to be but in my opinion there is absolutely nothing wrong with something like scrambled eggs for dinner. Or an omelette. I know we tend to think of it as breakfast food but really what does it matter? It’s healthy! Or the other day my daughter was eating Zucchini Fritters – which is really big for her and I asked her if she would like to dip it into sauce, I thought this might help encourage her to eat it because the look on her face told me that she wasn’t going to even try it. She told me she didn’t like tomato sauce but she wanted to dip it into Vegemite. Now you and I would never think of that as a nice combination but I felt that I had to allow her to make decisions and who’s to say what goes with what. So I gave her some Vegemite – and with that she ate Zucchini Fritters. I was so proud of her and I made sure she knew it.
4. Juice it:
No I did not just give you another excuse to go out and buy a Thermomix. Kmart have a $15 Juicer and it’s fabulous. I let the kids help me choose the fruit and then cut it up. I often will throw in a bit of extra something and only tell them after they have started drinking it and declare that they love the juice. Something like carrot or kale that they normally wouldn’t try. Miss 3 will be so excited that she is having something new and we will call around the uncles or grandparents to share the excitement.
Often we will discuss what is a “sometimes food” and an “always food”. So occasionally I will put the ball in her court and ask her what she wants for dinner that night. To stop her from answering “ice cream” (I’ve fallen for that one too many times), I tell her it has to be an “always food”. She generally will then decide what she wants for dinner and it will be a good choice and that night we are sure to have no fuss. She is happy that I trusted her with the decision-making and I am happy because.. Well because she is eating! I also help her learn by telling her what food is good for what. So when she ate her kale (or drank it I should say) I told her that it is a super food and one of the things it helps you do is see. I then said “wow you should be able to see so much now. Look out the window and tell me what you can see.” Or when she eats chicken which is one of the harder foods for her to eat I tell her that it makes her muscles grow and I’ll remark with each bite at how I can see her muscles growing right in front of my eyes. She absolutely loves these games.
I am very clear about making my kids know that it is not a restaurant. They can’t order different things off the menu. Rather I take the buffet approach. I have a few different things on their plate and I know that at least one will be successful so that I know they have eaten at least one part well and that takes any doubt out of your mind that they are still hungry. So for example I knew that shredded chicken might not be a hit with miss fussy so I served it with a side of cucumber (which she now loves after about 6 weeks of constantly putting it onto her plate) and some pasta. So even if she just tried a few bites of chicken – I could still be happy with that because she would eat other things and not in my mind freak out that she’s going to complain that she’s hungry later.
And make sure they are good eaters! Use the pack mentality – they want to do things together.8. Change it up:
One change that made a massive difference was that I got rid of the boring Ikea plates that I had been using and swapped them all for really great plates that keep things interesting. Some had their favourite characters on it and some were in different shapes with different compartments. I also came across this fabulous company called Education on A Plate. I really feel that kids food needs to be visually appealing for fussy eaters and sometimes it’s hard to make tuna Mornay look less like gruel and more inviting. I have found that since making the change with the plates, I don’t have so much of the scenario where my daughter takes one look at it as I put it down and says “yuk” before she’s even come close to trying it. She’s excited to see what its all about.
9. Try and forget(ish) about table manners for now:
If people without children had to see my kid’s mess after a meal, they would double their contraceptives immediately. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for manners…but some can be learnt in time. Both miss 1 and miss 3 eat with a spoon/fork but sometimes if it’s too hard then I will encourage them to use their fingers. If it accidently drops on the floor, I don’t make a big deal about it – I just call the dog to clean it up! I don’t comment on their mouths being open when they chew because frankly I’m just happy they are chewing. If you “bust their chops” (pun intended) about every little thing at the table, the whole experience will become negative. They won’t eat like this forever. We all eventually learn table manners – don’t you remember that scene with Julia Roberts in Pretty Women…“slippery little sucker”.
10. If at first you don’t succeed, pick yourself up and try again:
Not every dinner is going to be a win. They aren’t going to be eating curry’s overnight. They aren’t going to give up their chocolate treats for celery sticks. Be realistic. Change your attitude and it will definitely change their eating habits.
So there you have my top ten picks for changing dinner time in your home.. I hope they help make mealtime a little daunting and more enjoyable for everyone… Take it or leave it!
F.Y.I I know that after this blog I am going to be inundated with questions about where you can get those amazing plates that I have pictured above. So I’ve got you covered. Head over to www.educationonaplate.com.au and order in the next week and use the coupon code belliesandbeyond to score yourself 15% off!
Enjoy and sweet dreams x Bec