What’s more important…..nutrition or enjoyable mealtimes??

What’s more important to you and your family – an enjoyable family mealtime or your child eating the balanced nutritional diet that is drummed into us?

It’s a really hard question…..of course we strive for both as they are both so important. However what often happens in children who have restricted food choices is a) they only eat the foods they will eat – how and when they will eat them – and therefore parents worry about their nutritional adequacy or b) parents push children to eat foods they currently don’t yet have on their ‘accepted’ list and in doing so create angst, upset and fights along the way.

Many parents of challenging eaters tell me that it would be so much easier if they could just sit down together as a family and all eat the one meal. No more preparing 4 different meals, at different times, with children glued to screens or eating in another room as they can’t stand to be around other foods. Imagine being able to go on holidays without taking a whole suitcase dedicated to the ‘right brands’ of food or being worried about finding the ‘exact brand’ of bread or biscuits……..

Food choices are something children learn and parents facilitate. Learning to eat is like any other developmental stage – we teach children how to eat (ie. sitting at a table, no screens, eating together), we teach children what to eat (we expose them to a variety of foods over many opportunities), we teach children when to eat (we offer them foods at certain times and in between those times they can learn to build appetite), we teach children the rules of mealtimes (ie. stay until the end of the meal, eat what you need to eat to feel satisfied, don’t throw food etc). This teaching takes place over years and is not something that can be learnt or unlearnt in a matter of hours or days. It’s perfectly ok for children to refuse certain foods and have their favourites however what tends to happen with selective eaters is that they start to teach their parents…..and before too long the parents are doing exactly what their child has taught them! Only problem being is that parents actually know the road they would like their child to be on (ie. the road of nutritional abundance and enjoyable mealtimes)  but their child has taken them on a completely different track and the parents feel like they have no way of grabbing back hold of the steering wheel.

One of the first ways you can re-gain some control of food times is to recognise that the ‘teaching’ is happening the wrong way around. As parents you can then begin at the beginning – by teaching your child the how/what/when of eating by bringing back in some guidelines for the whole family. That includes dad/mum who doesn’t get home before 7pm at night, mum/dad who waits until the children are in bed to be able to start cooking their meal and the children we tend to sit on the couch or walk around the house grazing because that’s the only way they will eat.

Whilst it is important to work with experienced Feeding Therapists to expand your child’s confidence and success with exploring new foods it needs to occur hand-in-hand with changes to the home mealtime environment. At Lively Eaters we work collaboratively with our Dietitians to ensure that nutritional adequacy is being met for the children whilst we work to expand their courage with new foods and help you as parents ‘take hold of the reigns’ again and work towards a positive, relaxing, enjoyable mealtime experience which can then be the springboard for teaching them about new foods.

 

Emily Lively, Speech Pathologist

Lively Feeding Therapist