Post by Contributing Writer Amy
“Sit down, please.” “No spitting out food!” “Eat two more bites of broccoli and then you can have applesauce.”
Our meals used to involve negotiations around what and how much my toddlers ate. It was stressful and not fun for anyone. Then, I discovered the division of responsibility in feeding and it made a huge difference! Once I really understood it, mealtimes were more relaxed for everyone.
When they refused to eat something, instead of talking about good or healthy it was, my dad once said, “Good! More fore me!” The look on my little one’s face was priceless. She was having immediate second thoughts about her refusal. So “Good! More for me!” became our light-hearted response to any time they turned their nose up at something. Knowing that what they will or will not eat makes little difference to us as parents has taken the pressure off the kids to assert control at meal time. They rarely refuse to try food anymore and it’s funny to hear them say “Good! More for me!” to their little sister when she refuses something.
If you aren’t negotiating, what do you do at mealtime?
- Play Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down
Say, “Thumbs up or down! Going to the beach!” Kids can keep eating, but need to stop fighting or whining to see what’s next and decide whether they will give it a thumbs up or down. You can do simple things for little ones like just “Swimming!” “Shots!” or “Coconut!” You can try more complex situations for older kids such as, “Your little sister breaks your block house, so you push her down.”
- Mixed Up Family Names
Pick a letter and a family member’s name replacing the initial consents with the chosen letter. For example: Letter B and Grandpa Ron would be “Bampa Bon.” Listen to them giggle as they try to figure out whose name you are saying and what letter you are using. We even do first, middle and last names. My kids have always found this hilarious and it gives them extra practice with recognizing letter sounds.
- Tell a Story
Just saying “Once upon a time…” will often stop the chaos around here. Many parents shy away from telling original stories, but your kids don’t need Newberry winners, they need you. You can even stop and have them help you fill in. “Once upon a time, there was a turtle named _______ and he was looking for his _________.” The important part is not the story you tell, but that you are the one telling it, just for them. As long as it has a happy ending, I’ve told some very lame stories that were still met with, “That was a good one, mom!”
- Four Seasons of Fun
Between bites, kids get to go through all four seasons in actions. “It’s summer! Can you pretend you are swimming?” Take a bite and get a new action. “Pretend to make a sandcastle on the beach!” Each season has plenty of actions and the kids can help come up with ideas, they just need to take a bite between actions.
- Silverware on the Move
Many parents have done the old spoon as an airplane trick to get babies to eat their veggies, but this is a play on it for bigger kids. They feed themselves and take turns showing off what they can imagine their spoon or fork to be. We’ve had a dump truck which beeps as it back up to dump in their mouth, a hot air balloon, pogo stick, roller coaster, and an airplane that does a fly by on someone else’s mouth before going into their own. There are always lots of giggles!
Since small children can’t have a deep dinner conversations, these little sanity savers help make mealtime a fun, family experience instead of a lesson in negotiation. In addition, the first four aren’t even bound to meal time, but can be done while you do something else, like feed a baby or prepare a meal for hungry, cranky kids! Bon a petite!
What helps your family enjoy mealtime?
Amy is a former reading and third grade teacher as well as a mother to three little girls with big personalities. She believes joy can always be found in playing, learning, and ice cream.