Through the Mom's the Word on Dinner conversation series I'm part of via Momversation, it's become clear that dinnertime often involves either battles or bonding for families; to that effect, you can check out a recent video and conversation on how dinner is best characterized in your house. Meanwhile, this conversation thread got me thinking and I wanted to share 5 ways to diffuse mealtime battles. These strategies have been really effective for us and I hope they are helpful to you! If you have other tips, feel free to share in the comments here or over at the video post.
1. Present a united front and be consistent. If you have a parenting partner, present a united front, and whether you're parenting solo or in tandem, be consistent. This concept is often raised from a discipline standpoint and I think the same goes for food too, whether it relates to manners, how much of and what you expect your child to eat or try, etc. Battles will ensue between parent and child and parent and parent if one grownup feels relegated to the bad guy role and if you're inconsistent on approach.
2. Shop with your child. I hear from a lot of parents that they don't like taking their kids to the grocery store because it takes longer or they end up with lots of unwanted items in their cart. However, I've found that I really like taking Laurel (and Violet too, actually -- I babywear her and she seems utterly fascinated by the change of scenery and all of the things to look at) with me. Sometimes I'll task Laurel with checking items off the grocery list or ask for her help bagging and selecting items or running the peanut butter or coffee grinding machine -- she loves all of these little jobs and they occupy her, thus preventing the "Can we get this and this and this?" questions. And when we're in the produce section, I ask Laurel if there are new vegetables or fruits that she'd like to try, to encourage her towards new whole foods. Finally, if you'd like to avoid the temptations of the regular grocery store (i.e., the junk food aisles), hit the farmer's market together. Giving your child the autonomy to pick out some items will help them be excited about eating and diffuse battles.
3. Enlist your mini sous chef. Regular readers know that I'm a proponent of cooking with kids. Stock your kitchen with kid-friendly cooking tools and enlist your little helper. Laurel is always more excited about eating things that she has helped make, thus avoiding mealtime battles. Also, getting savvy in the kitchen has inspired her to cook us dinner on more than one occasion!
4. Get feedback but don't be a short order cook. I find that mealtime battles often center around parents presenting food and kids not wanting to eat it. We have always tried to work towards having Laurel eat whatever we're eating, but during toddlerhood that was definitely more challenging. Early on we got in the habit of getting input from Laurel about what to eat for dinner (then not falling into the short order cook trap of making her a million other things) and we've found that getting her feedback increases the odds that she'll eat what we make, and has also resulted in cool things like vegetarian week (yes, the girl who used to refuse vegetables inspired vegetarian week!) and better meal planning in general.
5. Remain calm. I know it can be hard to remain calm when you're feeling annoyed and frustrated, but Jon and I always find that battles are more quickly diffused when we don't become entrenched in the drama. Just take a deep breath (step away if you need to) and return once you feel more distanced from the emotion.
If you have additional tips I'd love to hear them! Share them with the community in the comments below or over at the video post.
Image credit: Carlos Porto via FreeDigitalPhotos.net