Community Wellness | Patience, trust key to peaceful family meals

Community Wellness | Patience, trust key to peaceful family meals

Eating meals as a family has many positive benefits for kids and adults. This is especially true when it comes to health.

Meals give parents time to talk and connect with their kids. They can also be used as a time to teach about healthy eating habits, like proper portion sizes, tasting new foods and stopping when full.

According to the American College of Pediatricians, kids in families who eat regular meals together are more likely to eat healthier foods, like fruits and vegetables.

Some research even suggests that family meals are associated with reduced risk of obesity in kids and teens. But for many parents especially those of picky eaters, meals are a struggle.

If this sounds like your table, you're not alone. Luckily, there is help.

Ellyn Satter, a well-respected dietitian, family therapist and author, teaches parents how to create more peaceful mealtimes. Her institute's method for the division of responsibilities in feeding has been shown to teach kids better meal habits and lessen stress on parents.

The method splits mealtime tasks between parents and kids.

Parents are in charge of what food is offered, when it is offered and where it is offered. This depends on things like budget, cooking skills and the family schedule.

Kids control if they eat and how much they eat, meaning they only need to know their hunger level and food preferences.

Kids might not be hungry at every meal, and they might not enjoy every food served. This is normal.

Parents should decide ahead of time what to expect during meals. Do kids have to taste every item, or can they refuse? Are they encouraged to finish all of their food or to stop eating when they are satisfied? These rules should fit the child's age.

For example, in the toddler years and into elementary-school years, the focus should be on tasting new foods, not necessarily liking them. Positive, encouraging words should be given when kids try something new.

But what if your child is a picky eater? Or what if they say they don't like the same foods as the rest of the family? Offering new foods takes patience.

The first few times kids try a new food, they might not like it. They will probably say they don't. Parents may have to offer a food five, 10 or even 15 times before it is accepted.

If your child still refuses, try offering it in different ways.

For vegetables, try steaming, grating or using them as an ingredient in another dish, like casserole or salad.

You can also try serving new foods with a familiar one that you know your child will accept.

Keep in mind that with Satter's method, parents are not in charge of if their child will eat and so should not force them to.

Trust is also key to the parent/child meal relationship.

Kids trust that their parents will offer at least some foods they enjoy at each meal. Parents trust their child to know their limits and to listen to their stomachs. They must also trust that over time, kids can learn to enjoy new tastes and mealtimes can become the most enjoyable part of the family's day.

Just remember: Parents provide, children decide.

Caitlin Kownacki is an educator for University of Illinois Extension, serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties. Contact her at 217-353-0740 or caitlink@illinois.edu.

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