Preschoolers are all about defining themselves in relation to the rest of the world, especially their parents. This can show up as a power struggle, and it’s a sign that your preschooler is becoming his own person. But when the power struggles come to the dinner table, parents can struggle with balancing their child’s need to define his food preferences and the need to have that child eat a healthy diet. A diet of chocolate and chips might sound desirable to a preschooler, but it doesn’t cut it nutritionally, of course!
How can you opt out of the food power play?
Start with vegetables. Plan to have the vegetables on the table before the main course arrives. This helps you fill your plate and stomach with vegetables before you eat anything else.
Snack on vegetables and fruit. Try to make 75% of your child’s snack out of fresh fruit or vegetables. That way, you don’t need to play nutrition catch-up at meal times.
Try to accommodate your child’s food desires to a degree. Make sure that there is at least one of the favoured vegetables at meal times.
Allow your preschooler to have some control over the portion sizes he gets. If you serve your preschooler, keep in mind that children can’t eat adult portions.
Have a very simple alternative meal option that your preschooler can make, like an apple and a sandwich. That way you feel less like a short order cook.
Talk about healthy eating at times other than meal time. Talk about the parts of a meal – protein, fat, carbohydrates and how these help your body. Instead of focusing on vegetables, talk holistically about nutrition and how healthy eating helps your body feel good.
Even when eating feels like a big deal, don’t make a big deal about it. Yes, I have a hard time doing this, but as someone who grew up with a borderline eating disorder, I also understand the wisdom in disengaging from food power struggles. Control over food can become a very intense power struggle.
Know that this will likely get better. Most children who don’t like vegetables do grow up to eat them, even if they don’t enjoy them.
Is eating an issue for your children? Are you able to step away from the food power struggle?