How to avoid mealtime battles

If every meal ends in tears, try our tips for making feeding a stress-free zone

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1. Turn down the noise

Switch off the cooker fan and turn off the telly or radio. Sit down with your child (even if you’re not eating at the same time – although it’s great if you can). Now your child can you hear you, so you don’t need to raise your voice to get him to listen to you, and the food is not competing for attention.

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2. Make an effort

Make mealtimes a family occasion. Buy a cheerful tablecloth, set the table and make the effort to eat as a family.

3. Set a good mood

Your baby might be pushing all the wrong buttons at mealtimes, but it’s up to you to keep the mood calm. If you’re quick to snap, the atmosphere will soon turn sour, so try to ignore the bad behaviour and praise the good.

4. Beat the fidgets

If your child is a master of evasion tactics that get him out of eating, remove distractions like sauce bottles and jugs of juice from the table to avoid him being distracted by pouring and sprinkling, squirting or spilling.

5. Try to compromise

To avoid cooking separate dishes for fussy eaters, make sure each meal contains at least one component that every family member will eat, even if it’s just a side order of bread and butter or chopped raw veg. 

6. Keep focused

If your child kicks off during dinner, simply remove him from the table for a brief period, but welcome him back when he’s calm.

7. Use meals to talk

Instead of watching for disruptive behaviour, encourage conversation where everyone contributes in a light-hearted manner. Even if your baby isn’t talking yet, you can make him feel involved by talking about your day and your plans for tomorrow.

8. Be an early bird   

Mealtime battles often occur when children are overtired, so try bringing dinnertime forward to 4.30 or 5pm: it’s too much to ask a tired and hungry baby to wait until 6.30pm and then sit nicely at the table.

9. Don’t fret about fussiness

Most children go through phases of fussiness, but the less attention you give their picky behaviour, the faster it will pass. If your child refuses to eat, just remove his plate without comment. Don’t panic about him going hungry; if he skips a meal, he’s more likely to eat well at the next opportunity.

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10. Celebrate success

Every time your child behaves well at mealtimes, reward him with lots of praise and attention: the best way to show him that eating together is a positive experience.

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