Check Your Mood
Krystyn Parks, MS, RD & Melissa Iftimie, MPH, MBA
Ready to bring on mealtime peace and a have more happy dinners? At Fooblie, we have 5 strategies every parent can do to make it easier. We call this foundation the Fooblie Five. First? Let’s check your mood.
This first pillar is mostly about you! There are 3 evidence-based things you need to do to optimize your mood:
- Be calm
- Use neutral language and behaviors
- Know your role aka be the boss-ish
First, let’s talk about your attitude. If you bring all your stress to the table, others eating with you will pick up on it. It actually can influence what your little one eats! So mental check- keep your stress away.
How can I do that when meals are so stressful?
Yeah, we get it. If your kid doesn’t eat much or it’s all about bribes then meals are super stressful. Here are some tips:
- Don’t talk about food or what you are eating. Make small talk about school, the day, a new TV show
- Serve new foods with safe foods
- Know your role and trust in it (see below!)
- Check out our picky eating e-course that goes in-depth with the Fooblie 5, so you can feel confident.
Use neutral language and behaviors
Next, let’s look at what you say. Try not to pressure your kid to eat. That means do not say things like “eat this and you can go play” or “eat that and you can have dessert”. These tactics may work in the short term, but in the long run can backfire and cause picky eating!
Another tactic here is to not label foods good, bad, healthy or unhealthy. Just call food what it is, and leave out all the judgey-adjectives. This keeps all food neutral and takes away any bias. Of course we are going to like something that is unhealthy more than healthy – even if both foods we’re describing is a raspberry!
The ultimate neutral behavior is to treat all food the same. We love to serve dessert at the same time as the meal. It’s even OK if your kid wants to eat it first. What we strive to avoid is making foods completely off limits. This looks like ‘you can never have brownies, ever’. Research tells us this backfires and kids will find a way to eat brownies and not tell you about it!
Be the Boss-ish and Know Your Role
Last, let’s incorporate something called Division of Responsibility into how we handle mealtimes. We call this be the boss-ish, because it’s all about knowing your role and owning it.
What is Division of Responsibility?
Division of Responsibility is a theory created by Ellyn Satter that gives you a role for feeding your toddler and it assigns a role to your child. You can’t take on a role that isn’t your responsibility. Read this super human parent- you can’t do it all. It’s not allowed!
Be the Boss-ish: The Parent’s Role
- You provide the foods that you want your toddler to eat
I generally recommend offering at least 1 “safe” food, if your child is picky, but the main focus is this. You pick what YOU want your child to eat, NOT what your child wants to eat. If you have questions about what your child should be eating, ask your Fooblie coach!
- You set the time for meals
Kids do really well with structure. As much as possible, set up a meal schedule that works for you and your family. Will you always be able to stick with it? Of course, not! And that’s okay! The idea is to set up structure so that your child knows that another meal or snack will be coming soon.
- You set the location for the meal
Ideally, meals and snacks should be offered at a table and the whole family (or whoever is home) should eat together. This is a great way for you to model to your children how you want them to eat.
The Child’s Role
- The child decided if they are going to eat
Kids are naturally very intuitive eaters, meaning they will eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. If a meal or snack is offered and the child does not want to eat, that is ok! You can have them join you at the table while you eat your meal or snack, but do not force them to eat. Many times, younger children will just prefer to play instead of eat, but once they are sitting at the table they may be willing to try the meal or snack.
- The child picks what they eat out of the food offered
With younger kids, you can plate small portions of each food for them. With older kids, you can let them plate the food themselves. As the parent, you do not need to pressure them to take one bite of each food, or eat all the vegetables if they want more pasta. As long as there are second servings available and everyone else has had a share, you can let the child eat however much they want.
Why is this worth a try?
The benefits of this approach..
- The pressure is 100% taken off of you as the parent!
- You can relax knowing that everything you offered are foods that you’re ok with them eating.
- No more need to make second (or third or fourth) meals for each of your children. If they have a safe food available, you don’t have to worry about them not eating at all.
Stay calm and feed on!
If your little one does not eat the most well-balanced meal every time, it’s ok. You will be offering another meal/snack in the near future! Every meal doesn’t need to be perfectly balanced in a healthy diet, it is more about the whole picture of the day or week. If you noticed your child ate only fruit at breakfast, maybe offer non-fruit choices for their next snack to help balance out their menu.
Try to remember to stay calm, be neutral and know your role! If you continue to model healthy eating for your kids at every meal that helps too.
Want more help?
Learn more about how we approach nutrition at Fooblie. We’re here to help make it easier. You’ve got this!