Picky Eating 101: Importance of mealtime routines
It's pretty common to hear about sleep routines. Pretty much all of my mama-friends recommended using sleep/bedtime routines to help my daughter become a better sleeper at first. And they come highly recommended for good reason: they work! All humans, but infants and toddlers especially thrive on habits, routines, and consistent expectations (nap schedule, anyone?) For some reason though, we dont hear as often about feeding or mealtime routines.
We often fly by the seat of our stressed-out pants when it comes to mealtime- pulling whatever we have out of the fridge and trying to get something on the table...anything! Then we feel surprised and defeated when our kids act up, act defiantly and show refusal behaviors at the table. But having positive mealtimes is do-able and having consistent expectations and routines can play a big role in this process.
Mealtime routines do not have to be complex. They are a reflection of your family-values and they help not only your child, but also you and your partner know how your mealtime will flow. When your mealtime routines become second nature, you have one less thing you need to think about or stress over at meals. These expectations and routines also help tremendously when you have a picky eater to deal with, as picky eaters often get very stressed out when new/unfamiliar things ocur at mealtimes. If your child acts up or refuses, you no longer have to worry about what you should do next- it's obvious because you have a set routine, so you will remind your child of the routine and continue on, the same as always. Also, mealtime stress is decreased for the picky eater because he or she knows when the meal will start, what to expect next, and when the meal will end. There is no guessing or worrying on their part because they know what the flow will be. Yes, you can always adjust or change the routine (just like with a sleep schedule, which occassionally needs to be modified) but especially at first, you want to be very consistent until the pattern becomes clear to your child and your whole family.
An example of a mealtime routine might be:
1. Your child sets the table
2. Everyone washes hands
3. T.v. gets turned off while everyone sits down
4. The family says a prayer or thank you to the chef
5. Everyone at the table serves themself at least a little bit of everything on the table.
6. You eat for 15 minutes (or you don't eat but you have to sit at the table with everyone else during that time)
7. Each person gets up, cleans their plate and washes hands
8. Mealtime is over
You can omit or add as you need to meet the needs of your family. You can have your child write these steps down or color a copy that you print out, and then post them on the refrigerator for all to see and refer back to in case there is an argument about what comes next (like asking to have the tv on, or wanting to get up and wander during the meal).
Again, these routines can always be changed as needed but the more consistent you are with these, the easier it is for your child to understand what will happen and what his or her role is.
What are your family's mealtime routines?