Making meals fun again is very important for the whole family but especially for a picky or highly resistant eater, as it is extremely unlikely a child is going to try a new food when they are stressed or anxious.
Figure out your expectations of the meal before you start.
Consider how your child is managing overall each day.
Has it been a good day? Or has it barely begun and you already want to go back to bed!
Decide how long you think the mealtime should last.
Twenty to 30 minutes is generally accepted as an appropriate amount of time to eat a meal. Longer is usually counter productive and likely won’t change the outcome.
Decide on a goal for the meal/snack.
Is it to sit together as a family, taste one new food, or have your child sit for ten minutes without getting up?
Focusing on your one goal will help you let go of all the other concerns you have around mealtime that are overwhelming.
Offer movement breaks.
Movement breaks and/or a safe place your child can to retreat to if he/she starts feeling overwhelmed or upset, can help with avoiding meltdowns during a difficult meal. Once your child is feeling better, he/she can try re-joining the table.
Remove therapy from mealtime.
If your child is already involved with a therapist who is working on a specific eating skill, consider saving therapy-related activities for eating at a time outside of mealtime. Again, this takes the pressure off the child to have to work on a developing skill when the real focus is on nutrition. This will also help to keep mealtime more enjoyable for everyone, especially your child.
Check your mood and feelings.
If you are feeling anxious about the upcoming meal and your child’s performance, it is very likely your child is feeling the same. Also, it takes a lot of work to prepare meals the way you think your child wants. When your child refuses to eat, this can be very stressful and this stress can change the atmosphere of the meal very quickly. The best thing you can do is breathe and re-focus on the goal you set for that meal.
Start a mealtime tradition that takes the focus off the meal.
For example, at breakfast you could share a dream you had in the night.
At snack you could listen to a music mix or an audio book.
For supper you could each share the best part of your day. Figure out what will work with your family and make it part of your mealtime routine.
Good luck and keep it fun!
And as always, be the hero you are meant to be!
Courtesy photo by Kate Ter Haar