“You are going to stay in that seat until you finish your meal!”

I stepped out of the kitchen and sat back, thinking about those words. Had I really just told my son that he was going to have to sit alone at the table until he ate the remainder of his now cold dinner? Shame and guilt washed over me. I wouldn’t want someone to force me to eat something that I did not like, much less something that was now cold.

Walking back into the kitchen I motioned for my then four-year-old son to come over to me. I wrapped his little body in a hug and told him I just wanted him to have a full belly. I certainly didn’t want to make his evening miserable. I knew that there had to be a meeting place between our two lines in the sand. I knew I had to do something.

I started researching ways to help my extremely picky kiddo get the nutrition his growing body needed. The tips I learned along this journey took me by surprise. Some are unconventional but utilizing them has successfully allowed dinner time to be enjoyable again.

Let Them Pick

Allowing my kids to pick the different components of their meals (within reason, I’m not talking ice cream for dinner) made them want to eat what was prepared and I was surprised at some of their choices. Things like sushi and blueberries were suddenly on their radar. The fact that they wanted to try these new things made mealtimes easier and much less stressful.  

Inform and Educate

Like most kids, my children all want to grow up “big and strong.” My husband and I talked to them about choosing healthy foods that would help them accomplish this goal. By teaching them what foods were nutritious and letting them try a variety of cuisines, they were able to discover just how many choices they liked. We looked through recipes, watched YouTube videos, and had fun while picking out new meals to try.

Listen

My goal as a parent is to raise strong, kind, thoughtful and independent children. I trust them with a lot of information and try to be very transparent with them. In doing so, I realized that I also needed to not just hear what they said but really listen, too. If my daughter says she is full, I needed to respect that and not try to coerce her to eat the rest of her meal. They are smart, resourceful, and very capable of realizing when they have had enough to eat.

Cook together

Whether it was lunch, breakfast, or dinner, I started allowing my kids to help prepare their meals. They really enjoyed this time and were proud of their creations. They treated these meals as though they were artwork fit for royalty. They couldn’t wait to tell their friends about what they had made for dinner the night before.

Even better: they were excited to eat what they had made!

Make Mealtime Fun

Instead of forcing my kids to observe staunch rules, we make mealtimes enjoyable. I started saying yes to the little things that I would have previously said no to on impulse. My son wanted to use a special cup, so sure thing kiddo. My daughter wants to tell ten thousand senseless knock-knock jokes. They want to eat in a circle on the living room floor. Yes and yes. Making mealtime a fun stress-free way to relax after a long day proved to not only accomplish the goal of getting my picky-eater full, it was also a wonderful way to connect with our kids.

I had been approaching this from the wrong angle. My picky eater did not need to be conquered while I asserted my dominance over him; he needed to be understood. Love, compassion, and respect are languages spoken by all ages. Sometimes, we as parents (raises hand in firm agreement) need that gentle reminder.  

Photograph Credit: Hannah Moore

This story was written for CharlotteFive’s latest channel for parents in the QC, called QC Playground. Sign up for the weekly QC Playground newsletter here.

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