It starts with a spoon pushed off the high chair. Perhaps some food is thrown on the floor. Or even better, thrown AT you. Some may experience food actually being spit out and spraying all over your shirt. At first it may seem cute and even laughable, but your reaction to their behavior is going to have the biggest influence on them continuing the behavior. Or not. No judgment here, Brooklyn has had her share of us laughing or getting upset with her. Oh yes, even a negative reaction allows the behavior to continue… or get worse.
So what to do when your toddler- or even your 4 year old- thinks meal time is a game or has trouble expressing their frustrations? The solution is very simple: a very BORING reaction. OK, so what exactly is an example of that? Here are 2 from 2 different age groups and situations:
- Fiona is 2 and in her high chair. She is discovering her motor skills and strength are improving. She wants to practice and show off those skills! She also wants to have some fun. You know this game. Fiona looks at you in an oh-so-cute way and slowly starts pushing her spoon off her tray. “Uh uh Fiona… no, no, no…” is your initial response, with a smile, as she keeps pushing that spoon. You think she is so adorable and your face and tone show it. She keeps pushing it, pushing it, and OOOPS! “Uh Oh Fiona!” and everyone giggles and Fiona thinks “How fun! Not only am I cute but I’m making people laugh!” The focus is off the meal and she continues the behavior to get the reaction she gets from the table. Instead, let’s try the boring reaction approach. Instead of cutesy comments, a smile, and a “ready to play” approach, when Fiona starts pushing that spoon and looks at all of you with that smile- don’t react at all. Keep eating as a family, doing what you’re doing, and don’t even look at what she’s doing. If that spoon goes off that tray and onto the floor, pick it up in a calm way, put it on her tray, look in her eyes and tell her, “Fiona, the spoon is for eating and stays on the tray.” If she does it again, same thing but add “Fiona, the next time you push the spoon off your tray, the spoon goes away.” Keep on doing your thing. That third time, say “Fiona, the spoon stays on the tray and this time it goes away.” She can figure out a way to eat her meal without the spoon. This boring reaction approach isn’t that easy though. It takes consistency and patience. The results won’t happen overnight.
- Let’s say you have the 4-year-old that is very expressive, independent, and knows what he wants. And tells you! It’s OK for him to express his feelings and his choices, but that doesn’t mean you need to react in a way that will allow him to manipulate meal time. So when Ben tells you “I don’t like this! I don’t want a salad!”, you take the boring reaction approach that I do with Brooklyn. “Ben, it’s your choice to not eat your salad. This is our dinner and you have a choice to eat it or not.” Leave it at that. Don’t make a big deal. Don’t beg. Don’t plead. Don’t negotiate. And definitely don’t get up to make something else for Ben.
The boring reaction approach when it comes to behavior at the table can actually create an adventurous eater with consistency, patience, and time. The trick with this technique is they look at your boring reaction as a consequence. They want a rise out of you. They want to see you flustered and catering to them. What’s healthy for them, and YOU, is to still acknowledge and teach but in a way that will gain positive results.
Wishing you a positive family table with less mess and stress!
This super easy and fast treat is full of protein, fiber, flavor and texture. I won’t go into a super long story about making it… it’s all about dumping, mixing, and putting it in the fridge. Short & sweet.
1 1/2 c of almond or coconut milk
1/3 c of chia seeds
1/4 c of cocoa powder
2 T of maple syrup
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1 tsp of cinnamon
Stir and put in the fridge overnight… or at least 4 hours
You can add things like bananas, walnuts, strawberries or apples to the pudding for extra oomph. Enjoy as a pop by putting in molds and freezing overnight.
That’s it! Short and deliciously sweet.
Getting your kids involved in the kitchen is one of the top ways to bring out the adventurous eater in your child. Being a part of the show will grow their confidence, excitement and they will want to try & be a part of the applause. You may be thinking more about how challenging it is to have your kids “help” but in reality the rewards far outnumber the few annoyances or extra clean up you may have. What’s even better is there are so many ways you can involve your child in the meal. Today I’ll be talking about something that may seem a bit scary but your child is actually quite capable of doing.
The act of chopping and slicing can be a fun way for your child to help prepare the meal. There are wonderful child-friendly knives out there that you can make a part of your kitchen. My favorite has been from StarPack and you can get their 3-piece knife set on Amazon here: StarPack 3-Piece Knife Set The knives are made out of nylon and actually cut pretty well. Here are some tips to get you and your budding chef started with confidence in the kitchen:
- A non-stick cutting board. We have loved our cutting boards from D-FLIFE on Amazon: D-FLIFE Kids Cutting Boards
- Tip of the knife always stays on the cutting board
- Close-toed shoes
- No rushing – make sure you have made enough time (and double that!) and are not starving
- Teaching them to hold the knife properly and curling the fingers in with the hand holding the food will start them on a great path
- I recommend that you start with softer items such as bananas, avocado, or tomatoes which will allow them to get some safe knife skills and gain confidence in some easier items before moving to more challenging
- When you graduate to more challenging foods, start by cutting them into easier sizes first. For example, with a cucumber, I started by slicing it into 1” discs where Brooklyn then cut those. The better her skills get, the more challenges I place in front of her
I hope these tips can put your mind at ease and create confidence in yourself as a parent. You giving your child that power of participation will be such a gift to them with being involved and being more willing to try the wonderful foods you make as a family. Wellness is more successful when we focus on those first 2 letters of the word: WE. I’m excited to share more tips with you on how you can involve your children in the wonderful world of culinary creation. Come on over to my Instagram page, @michellemansfieldfamilyhealth on Tuesday, February 27, 8pm CST for my LIVE discussion of ways to involve your kids with mealtime. Submit any questions you have before the LIVE or simply join in and ask away. Hope to see you there!
As you search for ideas to broaden your family’s choices, you are also wondering if the choices you put in front of them will actually be eaten. It’s hard enough to come up with a creative idea, then you need to implement it, get the reaction, and you pray it works. That’s a lot of steps which build the frustration with each step you take. That’s why I’m here to help you with these steps and ease the frustrations that can come with putting a healthy meal on the table.
Involving the kids in the meal and getting them excited is just one way to get the adventurous eater to shine. Confidence and independence are two characteristics that allow a person to be open and brave to conquer what’s in front of them. One way I love to involve Brooklyn is for her to choose her “Rainbow Days”. Brooklyn is quite obsessed with all things rainbow where I’m using her passion in the kitchen. She gets to choose the colors we will focus on when planning our meals for the week. She loves the song “Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue… Indigo and Violet, too” which is a song she learned at school. You can find the song online with “The Mother Goose Club” as well: https: Rainbow Song
Monday may be “red day” where she chooses strawberries, red peppers, pomegranate seeds, and apples to be used throughout the meals that day. Tuesday may be her “yellow day” which includes bananas, yellow squash, spaghetti squash, and lemons. You don’t have to do this every day but try a few days a week where they can feel included and proud of their decisions. This leads to a better attitude of trying the dishes that include their choices.
Need some suggestions? Here is a helpful link that lists an array of fruits & vegetables by color: Fruit & Veggie Color Ideas
Simple tips and simple solutions are the best ways to find the adventurous eater in your child. If you have any questions or need help, reach out to find out ways I can support you.
Making mealtime fun and switching things up are 2 keys to unlocking the adventurous eater in your child. One thing that we do is experiment with dips with the meal. What child doesn’t love dipping? Not only can they create new tastes, consistencies, and combinations but they can be artists with creating their own combinations. Which makes them feel pretty powerful and in control of what goes into their mouth. Here are some dips that we’ve used and created for Brooklyn. We allow her to dip whatever she wants into whatever she wants- there are no rules! (Which she loves too- and helps her grow into a more adventurous eater.)
- Mustard. She loves the sour taste and beautiful color. We sometimes mix with mayo which is a combination my grandmother taught us with a cauliflower dish she makes.
- Hummus & mashed avocado or pre-made guacamole.
- Yogurt with hummus and a touch of Everything but the Bagel seasoning.
- Yogurt with mashed avocado or pre-made guacamole.
- Yogurt with dill and sea salt.
- Hummus blended with veggies of your choice. We love doing spinach and hummus in our NutriBullet.
- Pesto- store bought like Trader Joe’s Vegan Cashew Pesto or you can easily make your own. We’ve mixed yogurt with pesto as well.
- Ketchup and mayo for a thousand island type of dip.
- Mild salsa with any of the above.
- Pureed beans (black or cannelli beans work best) with different seasonings like sea salt or all purpose seasoning. You can also mix the beans with any of the above.
Having fun at the table doesn’t mean a mess or chaos. Playful parenting at mealtime can enhance the experience and create a positive vibe that is needed for your family. Do you have any dip tips or crazy concoctions that work for your family? Comment below!!