The etiquette differs from family to family, but there are ways we can all encourage our kids to have a positive attitude to mealtimes, writes Christine Nikiel.
You don't have to eat if you're not hungry
When kids are engrossed in play and it's time to eat, you may find they're not interested in food. That's ok. If it's a family meal, such as dinner, I say, 'You don't have to eat if you're not hungry, but you do need to sit at the table with us.' My family is lucky enough to have almost every dinner together, and by insisting (to a degree) that everyone come to the table for that meal, it shows our kids that we think family time is important.
If you can't say anything nice...
How many times have you heard your child say, 'I don't like it', or 'Eww yuck!' before they've even sat down or tasted what's on their plate? In our house when you sit down at the table, find something nice to say or don't say anything. And definitely Don't Say Yuck!
Kids seem to prefer to eat in every position except sitting down. I say, 'both cheeks on the chair', which means 'sit on your bottom'. It's definitely safer, and surely it's way more comfortable.
Try everything on your plate
This one is to encourage kids to be open to trying new textures and flavours, and to give them a second, third, fourth, fifth... chance. We may not like something at first try, but love it after a few attempts. It’s an especially good thing to say before kids eat at someone else’s house where things are different and (shock! horror!), they may have try something new.
What does your tummy say?
When my kids are asking for more food after a meal, I’ll say, 'What does your tummy say?' Sometimes they’ll decide that their tummy really, really wants more, and other times they’ll decide they’re full. Sometimes they realise that they’re full one or two bites into their second helping and can't manage any more. That's ok, it's a good way to start learning what you can and can't manage. And we all have eyes bigger than our bellies now and again!.
Wait ten minutes
My kids often finish their dinner or lunch and say, 'I’m still hungry!' So I tell them that their tummies need time to digest what they’ve just eaten, and if they’re still hungry after 10 minutes, they can have something else. That 'something else' is a piece of fruit, or crackers and cheese and you may find that when they discover what's on offer is not the double fudge icecream sundae they'd imagined you whipping up, that they're not that hungry after all.
Chewing not chatting
Not talking with your mouth full goes without saying, but the other thing I try to encourage is for my kidsto take notice of what they're eating. My preschooler definitely takes advantage of having a captive audience to monopolise the conversation, but food is glorious and deserves our attention! So chat by all means, but chew too!
Save your appetite for dinner
It’s only human to overload on the appetisers and not have room for dinner when you're out or at a friend's house, which means you can miss out on all the good stuff (although unsurprisingly kids don't see it this way - chicken casserole vs caramel popcorn and cheese puffs? No contest!) The same applies to snacks between meals, so we try not to eat two hours before dinner, although a handful of dried fruit, a couple of crackers or a bit of raw carrot won't do any harm if they're looking a bit faint!