A leading Australian children’s dietitian says Curtis Stone’s message about sending children to bed hungry is mostly correct but a little extreme – there is another way, says Kate Wengier, and it should mean children are far less likely to go hungry.
“When it reaches the stage that parents are cooking two meals or kids are refusing entire food groups or going to bed hungry – something needs to be done,” said the mother of four.
“I appreciate what Curtis Stone is saying, but there is a kinder middle ground that will help kids to become adventurous eaters and allow families to enjoy food together.”
Part of why kids become fussy is about control, says Kate. Adults control so much of a child’s life from where to go, what time, brush your teeth, no you can’t wear a summer dress in winter.
“But there is one thing we can’t force a child to do and that is eat. We can sometimes bribe them, beg them or trick them, but these are not successful long-term solutions.
“My number one piece of advice to parents is not to be so strict that they’re dictating to kids about eating but instead create an inclusive environment where food is fun and kids are involved in family meal decisions and preparation. This changes the game.
“When mealtime is a chore for everyone and its ‘eat your veggies or go to bed hungry’ there’s a very good chance it will end in a standoff between parent and child and they will go to bed hungry.
“If you let them help choose between carrot or pumpkin, get them to help chop the veggies and set some boundaries about how you as a family talk about food at the table most parents will find the outcome much more pleasant. The word ‘yuck’ is discouraged at our table and it was key to creating a more positive eating environment. In fact, teaching kids to eat well starts way before you get to the dinner table.”
Kate’s top tips for raising food-loving kids:
- Share the responsibility.
Getting kids to enjoy a wide variety of food is a team effort:
You, as the parent, have the responsibility to serve food at regular intervals. Kids get to choose what and how much they eat from the options you provide. Try to serve foods they like with new foods, to encourage them to try something new.
- Create family meal times
This can be hard for working families, but it’s very important to eat together, around the table and without the TV, as often as possible. This allows you to role model to your kids and show them that meal times are an enjoyable social experience.
During the week, either my partner or I eat with the kids. It’s not always possible for us all to be together but one adult with the kids is great.
- Have set meal and snack times
Kids should be coming to the dinner table hungry, but not famished. This will maximise the chance of them trying something new and sitting nicely at the table. Grazing is not advised for kids older than one as having the feeling of hunger and fullness is essential to learn intuitive eating. Kids are great at listening to their bodies hunger and fullness signs, something we often have to re-learn as adults. Just make sure there is enough time between snacks and meals for kids to get hungry. Some afternoons, we skip the after-school snack and just eat an early dinner.
- Change your attitude
Start believing that your kids will eat. Eating can be learnt, but it does take time and patience. Stay positive, remember your responsibility and never give up offering a variety of healthy foods to your kids.
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