It’s human nature. We want to continue doing what makes us feel good, and stop things that don’t. Family meals aren’t always a lot of fun, especially if there is a worry about rapid weight gain, or nutrition with a selective eater who isn’t gaining weight. When parents worry, the kitchen table is no longer a place for connection, joy and sharing time together. Rather, it becomes a place of anxiety, power struggles and counting calories or bites. This worry and focus on the child in question and how much of what she is or isn’t eating sucks the joy out of family meals, and I believe is a major reason why families give up on eating together.
While any medical or oral-motor or sensory issues are addressed, when I work with parents, I help them take anxiety off the table and get out of those counterproductive power struggle. When talking with colleagues who also work with children and eating struggles, what we find is that when parents express RELIEF that they no longer have to monitor and pressure, in other words when they can give up the role of food cop, things start to improve— even if there are bumps in the road.
Here are the top three tips I have seen help parents turn in that badge and begin to enjoy family meals:
- Serve meals family style
- Feed using the Division of Responsibility (with every meal and snack including at least one food the child is likely to enjoy)
- Change your definition or “progress” to focus on attitude and connection, rather than bites or calories
Tapping into that relief and sitting with the positive feelings that now have a place at the table helps through the transition to the Division of Responsibility in feeding, when what and how much your child eats may seem worse before it gets better. One of the hallmarks of eating competent adults is a positive attitude towards food— it all starts from there.
Hang in there, and enjoy being a parent, not a food cop. Enjoy the smiles at the table. Enjoy looking forward to dinner at the end of the day, rather than dreading it.
“Simply changing the way food is served significantly reduced the amount of anxiety at the table. Once he was given the option to choose what he wanted on his plate and permission to do with it whatever he wanted, family meals immediately took a turn for the better.”