Such happy images don't have to exist only in parenting magazines.
It's a familiar scenario: you serve a healthy, well-balanced meal, and your preschooler or toddler whips her head to the side in disgust or declares "I hate this!" What follows is a steady buildup of huffing, puffing, whining, crying and screaming that has you ready to follow suit. The good news is no healthy child will ever starve herself, and most of the meal-time battles can be resolved with some patience, flexibility and firmness on your part.
1Stop talking about eating, food or anything else related to the meal if your child is in or approaching meltdown mode at the table. Prodding, encouraging or demanding that she "eat three more bites" or "just try it" will only exacerbate the power struggle, according to ZerotoThree.org. Instead, try reading her a book or, once she stops screaming and flailing like an injured animal, talk about her day. Don't look at her plate and don't praise every bite. Once she sees you're unaffected by her eating, she may be less likely to try and use this as a power-play.
2Serve a small portion of a classic favorite, like a quarter of a grilled cheese or a few teaspoons of macaroni and cheese, alongside slightly larger serving sizes of healthier choices. Seeing at least one of her "preferred" foods on her plate can curtail the knee-jerk screaming that happens when you serve her a plate filled entirely with unfamiliar or less-than-favorite foods. If she scarfs down the mac and cheese and asks for more, calmly explain that if she's still hungry she can have the chicken or sweet potato on her plate.
3Let her skip meals, and try to conceal any anxiety or frustration you experience when she does so. Just like adults, your little one might not be hungry at every meal, and respecting her appetite, or lack thereof, helps her pay attention to her own signals, according to KidsHealth.org. However, screaming and refusing the food you prepared doesn't mean she gets crackers, chips or tubes of sugary yogurt 15 minutes later. Instead, explains ZerotoThree.org, skipping a meal means she has to wait a few hours for her next snack, which should be something extra healthy like a hard-boiled egg or a piece of fresh fruit.
- Try keeping a food journal of your little one's food consumption for a week. Sure, she might eat more at some meals and less at others, but writing down what she eats (privately and when she isn't looking) gives you some reassurance that she's not actually starving herself.
- Don't use dessert as a bargaining tool to get your child to stop screaming and start eating. Not only does this reinforce the idea that the sweet treat is the best part of the meal, it also makes her override her own appetite.