Healthy kids blog

End mealtime battles with the division of responsibility

If you are a parent or carer of young children, you will no doubt have experienced mealtime battles in one form or another. Whether it be a refusal to eat, food throwing or a full-blown tantrum, you may be left pulling your hair out and throwing the dinner you just slaved over into the bin!

While we can’t find a way to make children eat every meal, every time, there is a way to make mealtimes less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone. Enter the Division of Responsibility approach to eating and feeding! Here are some tips for happy mealtimes:

    1. Parents provide, children decide

It’s your job to provide the type and amount of food at meal and snack times and it is your child’s job to decide what and how much to eat from what is provided.

  • Don’t pressure or persuade


This one can be tricky. As parents and carers, we feel responsible for our child’s health and wellbeing and therefore our encouragements and pressure to eat are well-intentioned. How many times have you heard yourself say ‘Just have a try’ or ‘Well done, you ate your broccoli’? Both of these are examples of applying pressure to eat. Try to let go of the commentary around what is and isn’t being eaten and talk about something different at the dinner table.


  • Avoid rewards or bribes


While tempting, offering rewards or bribes for eating are also a form of pressure and will add to the tension at mealtimes. Consider providing healthy desserts such as fruit and yoghurt and offering them whether dinner has been eaten or not.


  • Start enjoying mealtimes


Mealtimes are a great opportunity for the family to come together and enjoy each other’s company. Once you begin to trust your child to decide what and how much to eat, you will be able to sit back and enjoy this time together more often. This approach may take some practice, but in time, you will find it is a much more enjoyable way to eat meals together and it will allow your child to explore foods in a relaxed environment.


  • Accept the bad days and start again tomorrow


Life with small children is sometimes unpredictable and there will be times when meals are unsuccessful, regardless of what you do. Chalk these ones up to a bad day and start again tomorrow. Remember, consistency is key – stick to your responsibilities at mealtimes and trust your child with the rest.

For more information and support, chat to your GP or MCHN or check out our Active 8 program for parents and carers of children aged 2-6 years.

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