Kids & Parenting

How to make mealtimes easier with young children

One issue I have struggled with for a little while will not be unheard of for parents of toddlers: Dinnertime.

Our problems are threefold:

  1. Healthy eating
  2. Sitting nicely
  3. Speed (or lack thereof!)

Little K used to be a wonderful eater. When she was weaning, we had no issues in getting her to eat all sorts of fruit and vegetables. She’d eat pretty much anything that was put in front of her (and smear it all over her face of course!)

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But over the past year or so it’s been a complete nightmare. She will not eat a single vegetable. She will not try anything new. Luckily, she does eat fruit so although full of, albeit natural, sugars she is getting some healthy nutrients. However, I am desperate to extend her current menu, which, and I am ashamed to admit, has come close to a limit of chicken nuggets, fishfingers, potato waffles, and cheese

I have tried all the usual tips to get some vegetable to her: blending them into meals, making them look like funny faces/animals etc but she doesn’t fall for any of it.

We also struggle with meal times, in terms of getting her to sit nicely and the speed at which she eats. As an example, last week she took 1 hour 40 minutes to eat a cheese sandwich! She takes We only have about 2 hours between returning home from nursery and bedtime, so dinner time is currently taking up a massive proportion of our time together each day and adding an extra level of stress.

However, I think I may have come up with a solution: a dinner time sticker chart.

Each dinner time she has an opportunity to earn four stickers for the below behaviours:

  1. Eating all her dinner
  2. Trying a new food without fuss
  3. Sitting nicely while eating
  4. Taking her plate and cutlery to the sink once finished

On day one I set out very clear and specific guidelines as to what was expected to earn each sticker, so she knew what she had to do. At the end of each mealtime I then ask her if she has completed each one appropriately, and how many stickers she think she could get. To my surprise she has, on a couple of occasions, with no indication from me, decided that she did not sit at the table nicely so has not taken the sticker.

Once she received 10 stickers, she gets a special treat. I have therefore also created a lucky dip special treat bag full of pits and pieces as ‘prizes’. These range from small toys, craft supplies, clothe and sweets. I did a quick sweep in Poundland and Wilko to bulk it out, she’s young enough that expense doesn’t matter. It’s the surprise that she likes! She does not look into the bag when choosing and she cannot change what she has chosen.

She is storming through the chart, receiving an average of 3 stickers each meal time, and has already collect three prizes.

It definitely seems to be working, as she has tried gammon, salmon, carrots and peas, all of which she would not have touched previously. She is also sitting better and getting through her dinner much quicker.

Since setting up the chart, her nursery key worker has also made comments about how she is eating better. She even received a ‘Star of the Week’ certificate for trying new foods!

I think I am going to increase the number of stickers per prize to twelve as I can barely keep up with how fast she is getting through at the moment! And I think the long-term aim will be that she needs to complete all tasks to receive a single sticker, but for now, I seem to have her buy in, which is key.

How to make your toddler eat vegetables

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