Children are extremely sensitive to adults’ attitudes and judgements. The smallest members of the family are the most perceptive when it comes to eating habits and the associated behaviours and attitudes. By mimicking what adults do, children adopt healthy eating habits and also the joy and pleasure that are an important part of eating.
When your meal is accompanied by positive talk, you want to linger a bit longer and feel encouraged to taste new flavours. It can be easy to feel that coming to the table is a punishment if the mood at the table is tense. Adults who want to loosen up the situation should start by listening to their own table talk. An adult’s example has an even bigger impact than their words.
Food preparation can be fun. Making Karelian pasties or bread rolls or preparing your very first cake mix can be just as exciting as jumping on a trampoline. Working together in the kitchen means really opening up your senses to how the ingredients feel and smell. If there’s a mess it’s not a big deal. It can be cleared up later. Eating is even more fun if you rename whipped pudding as “princess pudding”.
Tasty food is an everyday delight!
Our daughter (4 yrs.) will become a chef when she grows up. She tastes everything, including the vegetables, because a chef should know what everything tastes like. –A mother, 36 yrs., 3 children.
Tips for creating pleasant meals
- Positive feedback is encouraging. Notice your children and give positive feedback for trying and for succeeding.
- Let your children participate in cooking as much as they are able to. This way, it’s not just ready-made meals that appear on the table, but something that the child and the adult have created together. It’s important for children to feel their contribution is valued.
- Light talk and joking encourage the child to sit at the table without fussing. Food-themed rhymes can bring pleasure to meals and encourage children to taste strange-looking new foods.
- Talk about the sensory delights of food and encourage the child to notice the strong colours and lovely flavours. Talk about where the food comes from and imagine what bananas look like growing on trees.
- Children like to offer adults bits to taste from their own plates. You should accept what’s given with pleasure rather than set a bad example by refusing.
- Repeated negative comments and pressuring take away the pleasure of eating and spending time together. Not everything will always go by the book, but next time, it’s sure to be much better.
- Pressing, begging or threatening to get children to eat is not okay. If children don’t like the food, they can still sit at the table and keep company with others, and then eat at the next meal. Being forced or pressured to eat is really not fun.
- Statements like “Our girl is such a picky eater, she won’t taste anything new” become self-fulfilling role expectations. Everyone should always be given new opportunities to taste again or to decline even if they didn’t like the food the previous time. It takes time and determination to get used to new tastes.
The book Äiti, älä tottele (kaiken maailman kasvatusoppaita) by Janna Rantala, Specialist in Child Psychiatry, has been used as a source for this article.
-Notice what’s good in the child (in Finnish)