Happy family mealtimes

by Dr Lucy Cooke. Top tips for making mealtimes with fussy young eaters fun, heathy and less stressful.

father feeding child

Introduction

Mealtimes with young children can be a nightmare. Lots of parents and caregivers end up cooking and serving several meals every evening because everyone wants something different and is hungry at different times.

If you have a fussy or picky toddler, the atmosphere at mealtimes can become very stressful especially when you are told that carrots (which were 'yummy' yesterday) are 'yucky' today and that your child is 'full' of chicken and peas - but has plenty of room for ice cream or cake.

Many families eat together less than three times a week and others never manage it because of long working hours or other commitments. It's worth trying to eat as a family as often as possible though because it's a good time to introduce new foods, to teach table manners and just to get together and talk. So, even if you can only manage to organise it once a week for Sunday lunch, it's well worth the effort.

The rest of the time, one thing that may ease the pressure a bit is for everyone to eat the same food, so at least you only have to prepare one meal even if people eat it at different times.

The supermarkets are full of 'children's foods', but the truth is that they can eat almost everything adults eat once they reach the toddler stage. They don't need special food and research shows that children who eat the same food as their parents at mealtimes tend to have healthier diets, and like fruit and vegetables more.

How CBeebies can help

The CBeebies website is full of useful games, stories, recipes and songs about shopping, cooking and eating.

Have a look at the recipes in the cooking part of the Make & Colour section for loads of great ideas for meals.

How about learning a song with your child? In the Song Time section of the website, you'll find 'The Lunch Song' and there's another one called 'Teatime'.

How to make a magic moment

Try to find one time in the week when the family can all eat together. If this is difficult during the week because you work full-time, do it at the weekend instead.

Try to make it really special and plan it in advance with your child. Make a few suggestions of possible meals that everyone likes and let your child choose which one you will have. Then go shopping together for the ingredients, prepare the food together, teach your child to lay the table and sit down to enjoy the meal.

While you are eating, talk about the food - where it comes from, how it grows, what kind of food it is (fruit, vegetable, meat and so on) and how much you like it. Take your time over the meal and don't push your child to eat more than he or she wants.

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Expert opinion

Eating together as a family has multiple benefits but isn't always practical with younger children. The next best thing is to get young children eating healthy, adult foods by offering the same foods to all the family, even if it is at different times.

Dr Lucy Cooke, Psychologist (specialising in children's eating behaviour)

Top tips

  • Try to eat together as a family as often as possible.Don't prepare different meals for children - once they reach the toddler stage, children can eat almost everything adults eat.Involve your child as much as you can in the preparation and serving of the food.Make mealtimes a time to talk to each other, not to read books or watch the TV.

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