Go back to the Introduction, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 to read everything from the beginning.
I’ve mentioned how sight plays an important role at mealtimes.
What a child hears also can affect his eating.
I’m rather of the opinion that silence is golden when eating, because I like to enjoy my food in peace when I am alone.
However, since having two kids, that hasn’t happened once, so I gave up my expectations in that regard.
So, how do we make the mealtime environment sound better and encourage eating?
PIN IT FOR LATER
I, for one, am for making memories, even at the kitchen table, so talking about how healthy food is does not fit with that.
If you found yourself saying things like
eat your broccoli, it’s good for you
I wouldn’t be surprised if your little one turned their head and ignored what you just said.
Kids don’t know what “healthy” means and I’m sure you can’t define it in a way that they could understand, without mentioning some medicine or anatomy in there too.
Yes, we know broccoli has it’s minerals and vitamins and all the good stuff, but then how do you explain minerals and vitamins to a 2 year old for example. If it takes longer than 10 seconds, their attention has probably diverted to something else already.
Calling broccoli healthy (or any other food really) might imply other foods are not healthy.
Also, this applies to words like “good”and “bad”. I find myself still talking about how too much sugar or salt is bad for us, yet still consuming them in front of my kids.
I am yet to find language to address this issue, as it is a sensitive topic overall. The foundation of their relationship with food later on life is laid during these early years and I am not sure I want my kid to grow up thinking food is classified in just two categories or we should have a preference for one food over another.
Language is a way to apply pressure, whether we intend it or not.
I still have to correct my husband when I hear him say
“have a bit of that with your bread”.
That right there is like saying “you also need to eat the other thing”.
We might mean well with what we say, but what our kids interpret might be something else entirely.
I feel like I shouldn’t mention it, but just to make sure. Bribing or cheerleading should be forbidden when feeding kids.
They take it in the wrong way entirely. And not just at mealtimes. Think about the last time you bribed your kid into doing something and how it backfired on you later.
What I like to do instead is take the focus of the conversation away from the food.
The most I do is maybe say “oh, that tastes good” but without any reference to what it’s on their plate, but what it’s on mine.
The rest of the time, I rather focus on my own eating or talk to my husband about how our day went.
We bring the kids in the conversation when it involves them. But don’t think we’re doing long narratives here.
The focus of our language might not be the food, but the focus of our hands and actions is the food.
If we pair this with the power of example that I talked about in the previous section, the whole attitude of a child can shift, but only if we are being consistent.
By that I mean very consistent. Weeks, months and years maybe.
Results are not immediate and it’s one of the reasons why parents give up trying after a while.
Who can blame us? We’re used to ourselves and our ways, not to small people whom we need to teach eating from scratch.
Ok, but what if their language says something along the lines of “I don’t want to eat this!”
This includes words like “yuck” or “bleah”.
First of all, don’t get emotional. At the first sign of emotion from your part, children know they have struck a chord and they are in control. You lose, they win.
What I like to do in these cases is:
- acknowledge their reaction by using phrases like “I see”, “Ok, I understand”, “That’s fine”, “I hear you”,
- follow up with “you don’t have to eat it”, “but this is what we’re having now” or things along those lines, and
- leave it at that.
I don’t offer any explanations (I used to do that in the beginning; I stopped because it gives them an incentive to continue the conversation with too many “why’s”) and I don’t offer alternatives.
In this case, the less words you use, the better. And the tone is also super important. It needs to be calm. Your sentences need to be gentle, but firm. I really struggled to find a comparison here, but I hope you understand what I mean.
Words and the way we employ them at mealtimes have such a huge impact and I’m sorry not to have realised this sooner. It would have saved me so much trouble going forward.
Let’s talk about the last pieces of the learning-how-to-eat puzzle. These might be the hardest to tackle in the context of lack of time and life going at a million miles per hour sometimes.