You’ve probably heard that giving children options is a great way to teach them how to make decisions.
As a parent, you have probably found that things are just easier when you narrow it down for your child.
Sometimes giving simple options works better:
- Will you wear the blue pants or the red skirt today?
- Do you want to bring your teddy or your train to kindy?
- Would you like an apple or a banana?
Choice is good
By giving your child a choice between two options, you can avoid overwhelm, prevent disappointment (and tantrums!) and boost their confidence in decision-making.
Just like adults, it’s easier to get children to do things when they feel it’s their choice and their decision.
Making food choices helps your child learn about foods and try new ones, while feeling in control. It also helps them to develop responsibility for their eating habits, an important life skill!
Healthy options, healthy choices
Children don’t always think about health and nutrition when they make food choices.
They think about what they feel like, what tastes good, and what is most practical for them to fit in with their other activities. We can’t always trust them to choose broccoli over cookies, or to choose never-tasted asparagus over much-loved carrots.
To help your child make healthy choices, give them healthy options.
As the parent, you know what healthy food you want your child to eat. You choose the food, but giving a couple of options within those healthy choices is a great way to let your child have a say, however, offering options only works if:
- you only offer a limited number of options
- all options are good and you’ll be happy with whichever your child chooses
- you stay firm on the options, or your child can go without
- you praise your child for making a good choice (a little praise goes a long way!)
Children don’t have the same maturity as adults when it comes to making food choices. If they’re feeling hungry and they see a pack of their favourite cookies in the pantry, this is what they will want to eat.
Keep in mind: If you provide only healthy snack options, your child will have to choose between those to satisfy their hunger. This is a great way to teach your child to make healthy food choices.
Narrow it down: Instead of asking “What snack would you like?”, ask “Would you like apple and cheese or sultanas and nuts?”; “Do you want red or green capsicum to dip in the tzatziki?”. When planning meals ask, “What fruit should we put in the muffins this week?”; “What kind of cheese should we put on top of the pizza?”; “Should we have coleslaw or a Greek salad with our chicken?”
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Using choices to expand your child’s diet
If your child has a limited diet, offering options for new foods can help. If your child only eats a few vegetables, you can introduce new vegetables by letting them choose which ones they would like to try.
You can ask them to choose a new vegetable at the supermarket or in the fridge.
For example, if your child doesn’t eat green vegetables, you can offer a choice between cucumber and snow peas. The best time to do this is when your child is hungry, perhaps just before lunch or dinner. “While you wait for dinner, would you like to try cucumber or green capsicum?” If they choose neither, ask them to wait until dinner. You can also leave a small plate with slices of cucumber and snow peas on the table in case their tummy starts rumbling and they change their mind!
Sometimes, there is no choice
If you’ve planned roast chicken and veggies for dinner, you don’t want your child to decide on something else. That’s a given. When there are no options, make sure this is clear to your child to avoid arguments and battles.
A couple of weeks ago we were out of milk at our house. My son wanted to eat muesli, but the only milk available was almond milk, which he doesn’t really like unless it’s blended in a recipe such as in a smoothie or pancakes.
He was really keen on muesli, so I asked him to try with the almond milk, and surprise! – he didn’t mind it at all.
Should he have had the choice between cow’s milk and almond milk, there is no way he could have chosen the latter. Sometimes, one option is better than two.
Other ways to let your child choose at meal time
You can’t always let your child choose the food, but there are many other ways to let your child get involved and make decisions at mealtime.
Kids love to share their good ideas, help out and be in charge, and giving them these opportunities can help create a positive mealtime for everyone.
The possibilities are endless, but here are some ideas:
- At the supermarket: which meat shall we buy?
- At home: should we have corn or peas with dinner?
- How should we cook the chicken? Crumbed or on the barbecue?
- What dip would you like with your celery, tzatziki or hummus?
- In the lunch box: would you like cheese and crackers or a blueberry muffin for your morning tea?
- Should we eat at the kitchen table or have a picnic in the lounge room?
- Should we use the green or pink tablecloth?
- What music should we listen to during dinner?
- What goes first on the sandwich, the ham or the cheese?
- Should we cut the capsicum in strips, squares or triangle shapes?
- Would you like your carrots cooked or raw?
Do you give choices to your child at mealtime or snack time? How do you encourage healthy food choices? Please share in the comments below.