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Make Family Mealtime More Enjoyable

Do you often find yourself suffering from "short-order cook syndrome," preparing different menus at mealtime to appease a finicky eater? Mealtime should be a pleasant family time and a positive learning environment for all family members. If you find that mealtimes usually end in arguments about how much your child should be eating, follow these guidelines. They'll help you cope with your picky eater and make family mealtime more enjoyable.

  1. The first step is to eliminate possible health problems. Make an appointment with your family pediatrician and share your concerns about your child's appetite and eating habits. Ask the doctor to weigh and measure your child and have him or her show you how to plot out a standard growth chart. Assess your child's growth and development over time, taking into consideration genetics and family body types. If your physician has no concerns, you can move on to mealtime strategies without worry.
  2. Establish rules for a sit-down, family-style meal where everyone sits together to eat. Turn the television off. Focus on conversation that includes all family members, limiting adult-only conversation. Also, don't use mealtime to nag or punish your child for behaviors that aren't related to mealtime.
  3. Establish a set of mealtime rules for your child. For example, he or she must stay seated, must eat at the table, must use his or her silverware, cannot throw food, etc.
  4. Limit your child's eating time to 20 minutes. If your child is going to eat, he or she will do so in the first 20 minutes of the meal. If your child finishes before that time, give praise and let him or her leave the table. (This decision depends on your mealtime rules.)
  5. Give your finicky eater small but reasonable portions of preferred foods along with very small amounts of non-preferred foods. Tell your child that he or she must eat the non-preferred foods in order to have seconds of the preferred foods. Do not force your child to be a member of the "clean plate" club or to eat the non-preferred foods.
  6. Plan your menus in advance. Include your picky eater by letting him or her help plan the family menu, encouraging them to try something new. Children's cookbooks are available to help with meal planning. Once you have created a menu, stick to your plan. 

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