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Family Table War-Zone: Time for a Truce

The following blog post was written by guest contributor, Katja Rowell.

Katja Rowell M.D is a family doctor, mom, and childhood feeding specialist and founder of The Feeding Doctor. She consults with parents to help raise children who are healthy and happy and feel good about food and their bodies. 

Parents understand how important family meals are, but as one mom said, “We go to the trouble of getting everyone to the table, but it’s forty-five minutes of hostage negotiations!” The good news is, to bring peace back to the table, parents get to work less, and enjoy their children more, and their children will learn to eat well and have better nutrition in the long run. Here are some ideas to help parents call a truce.

Pressure doesn't help.
Research shows that negotiating, bargaining, and playing games doesn’t help kids eat better. Avoiding pressure does, and as one client rejoiced, “I get to be a mom, not a food cop!”
• Kids pressured to eat more tend to eat less.
• Kids pressured to eat less tend to eat more when given the opportunity, and tend to weigh more.
• Kids pressured to eat more fruits and veggies tend to eat less.

Let kids be in control– of some things.
• Parents decide what, when and where to eat.
• Kids decide how much to eat from what is provided.
This is known as the Division of Responsibility in feeding and is the underlying strategy that neutralizes most food battles. If parents don’t have to get Timmy to eat broccoli, there is no fight. If Timmy doesn’t want chicken with his rice, he has other options on the table. Kids don’t get to say, “Gross,” but they can say, “No thank you.”

Serve foods family-style.
One of the fastest ways to restore peace is to serve foods family-style: put all the food in the middle of the table in bowls, and allow children to serve themselves.

Consider tastes.
At meals, parents can plan on at least one thing each person can eat. Serve a starch, two veggies and/or fruit, offer milk or water to drink, and a protein like meat or beans. If parents are making a new main dish, they can plan on familiar sides.

It’s a lot of work.
Shopping for and planning snacks and meals is not easy, let alone getting families together with today’s busy schedules. But it is important. Research shows that kids who eat regular family meals tend to have lower and more stable weight, have better nutrition, less disordered eating and are happier.

The payoff.
Besides the benefits mentioned above, when feeding is going well, kids want to be at the table. After one workshop, a gentleman told me, “Our son’s girlfriend used to get mad about our family dinners interfering with her social life, now she asks to eat with us!” Kids who feel good about food and have the habit of eating tasty, balanced meals will do so as adults.

Ending the battles may be the beginning of a new tradition– pleasant family meals that also happen to make kids healthier and happier. What could be better?

We would like to thank Katja Rowell for this post. For more information, please visit www.thefeedingdoctor.com.

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