It's easy to feel like a short order cook, and a poor one at that, when you're cooking for your children. Pint-sized persons often turn their noses up at new food, change their minds about old favorites or refuse to eat all together, leaving their parents scrambling to get something nutritious into their tummies.
"It's very trying," says Anne Fothergill, a mom in Takoma Park, Maryland. Her four-year-old son Charlie often skips meals despite his parents' best efforts. "I think it becomes a control thing, a battle of wills, especially with his Dad who pushes him to eat and so Charlie pushes the other way."
In an interview with FoodFit, pediatric nutritionist Dr. Keith-Thomas Ayoob had plenty of advice for parents trying to make sure that their children eat right, not least of which that parents are the most important role models for kids where food is concerned.
Ayoob said not to force-feed your kids "That's just going to create a negative association with food and eating," he explained. Offer food to kids in a very matter-of-fact manner and avoid associating stress with mealtime. Parents shouldn't be short order cooks. A parent's job "is over once they present a good, balanced, nutritious diet," he said.
Ayoob also cautioned against offering too many options. Providing one or two alternatives at a meal allows kids to feel like they have choices, but too much freedom can be problematic.
And what if they refuse everything? Ayoob was reassuring. "If the child chooses not to have anything that's OK, kids will skip a meal occasionally but it's not something to worry about, " he said.
If your child does skip a meal, don't let them snack on less nutritious items, instead always steer them back to a well-balanced meal when they're ready to eat. Grazing may work for adults, but Ayoob advised against letting kids do it because what they're eating may not be nutritionally complete and may interfere with their appetite for meals.