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Creating positive boundaries during mealtime

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

I love vegetables I'll go a step further and say I enjoy cooking but for a few months I've dreaded meal time because my kids made it hard. I felt like no matter what I made for dinner one or both of them "didn't eat this/that" or everybody wanted something else. My youngest is 1.5 and allergic to everything so this adds another layer of difficulty for me when thinking of meals to prepare.I knew I wasn't about to make 4 different meals every time and we needed structure.

My mother was very much a "I cooked it so ya'll gon appreciate it and eat it" type mama lol, my Nana was a "include us in the process of making or meal selection" type mama and I'm learning I'm not either of those ways 100% of the time and that's ok. I believe my kids should enjoy what I cook, appreciate it, and have input respectfully. Recently we switched pediatricians and now go to Peds East and we saw the Pediatric Dietician on staff. We knew we needed to see a dietician because our new daycare requires us to prepare lunches and snacks for my youngest and I feel lost. How the h*** was I supposed to send lunch and snacks for a kid who only wanted dry cereal, yogurt pouches and halo oranges? I didn't want to look like an incompetent mom.

I was impressed at all the information I learned about my almost 2 year old's nutrition and needs. Here are my top takeaways that have made meal less stressful:

1.Its my job to provide food and exposure. It's my kid's job to determine whether or not to eat the food and how much of the food to eat. The black mama in me really struggled with seeing that play out but I've been trying it in my household and what that looks like is not forcing my kids to stay at the table and finish every bite in one sitting. Maison and Reina are big enough to use their words and tell me they are done and so they tell me they are done and they can get up. They can say no to new foods, and will 10-15 times but keep trying to expose them. Each meal should have a "safe" option for your kid and the more colorful their plate the better. No more "sit there til your plate is clean" battles. Any unfinished food is wrapped up for consumption later. It's truly that simple.

2. I am not a short order chef. What that means is when my kids tell me they are done and I notice they have not eaten all of their food it's not my job to make more food magically appear to satisfy them. When my kids decide they "don't want" what I've prepared. I politely let them now when they are hungry again that same food will be waiting for them and no alternative food will be offered. I'm setting boundaries around my time and my food budget for my family. They want a snack? I Offer that meal amd it EVENTUALLY gets eaten. Lol 😆 . Just know the power is in making food you can put away for them for them to consume at another time.

3.Presentation matters. When my kids ask me "what's to eat?" and I have a cool creative name to call something new, they are little more interested in trying it out or even if I just cut it differently or arrange it on the plate differently.Kids are more interested in ants on a log and dinosaur turkey sandwiches than serving food as is. Use cookie cutter, spiralers, knives, and other gadgets to spruce up how you serve items. I introduced blueberries as eyeballs on "bear shaped" pancakes! Whatever you can do to spice up mealtime do it. There are tons of Instagrams you can follow for inspiration. Here is one I enjoy to give you some ideas so you don't feel like you have to reinvent the wheel. You can be as basic or a extreme as your family needs but trust me creativity provokes curiosity and leads to clean plates. Using cookie cutters to spruce up sandwiches or fruits helps with portions. Make plates as colorful as possible too like I said above. Here is an example of a colorful plate: two fruits, a veggie, jello for dessert,yogurt, and chicken wing (not pictured).

4.Portions are my best friend. I'd make Maison an entire sandwich and expect him to consume it because his sister who is almost 7 does and that's not realistic. Based on his age he needs 3 ounces of grains a day and to help you see what ounces looks like 1 ounce=1 serving so a sandwich as is uses 2/3 of the total grains he needs in a day. I could instead do a "dinosaur cut out sandwich" which leaves room for a serving of chips and whatever else he might like! I use their serving spoons to gauge how much food I'm putting on their plate and "clearing it" seems more obtainable.

5. Include dessert with the meal. Yup you read that right. Desserts shouldn't be hoarded over kids and used to bribe them to get through meals. I'm guilty of it. By including dessert with meals you remove the question of "if they can have one" and you shift the reward for finishing dinner to be full stomachs instead 😋. I'm sure you're wondering "What if they eat dessert 1st? Won't they ruin their appetite?" It doesn't matter what order they eat their dessert once it's gone its gone. If they are full, job well done parent. Store their meal for consumption later.

I've been applying these tips and I have enjoyed seeing the school daily reports saying Maison at "most" or "some" of his food and Reina eating more vegetables in general! Shebused to decline ALL VEGGIES and now her faves are glazed carrots, cabbage, and green beans and when we don't do a veggie we do fruit! I hope you learned something that will help your little one or destress meal time.

I am committed to including a fresh fruit or veggie with every lunch for Maison and getting Reina to eat a new vegetable like cauliflower! Wish me luck.I will continue to learn my kid's boundaries for food and they will learn mine as well but dinner time will be positive for all of us!

What are your food goals for your kids?

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