Q&A: Help! What do I do if my children all want different meals?

Our expert shares her advice on fuss-free family mealtimes

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Having to dish up separate meals to every member of the family is both time-consuming and expensive, so as parents, you need to put up a united front. You can’t expect your children to sit and eat three portions of veg if you and your partner are tucking into fish and chips, so make a concerted effort to all eat together and enjoy the same meals.

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Depending on your children’s ages, it’s a good idea to get them involved in planning what the family eats across the week. Before you do the grocery shopping, sit down with your children and ask them what they would like to eat, from a selection of healthy choices. If you have more than one child, you could allow each to choose what the family eats twice a week.

Make sure that whatever you’re cooking, you’re offering a good variety. Most children go through fussy phases, but the more different tastes they get used to, the more they will eventually accept. Don’t be afraid to use herbs and spices to make food more interesting; it’s tempting to cook bland foods for young children, but they may prefer more exciting flavours.

Reward charts are also a great way to encourage everyone to eat the same meals, so consider giving your child a sticker every time he eats an acceptable amount of whatever the family is eating, with a reward once he has collected a set number.

Remember, too, that no one eats perfectly all the time. For both children and adults, if you can eat well around 80 per cent of the time, then it’s fine to have the occasional day where you relax the rules a bit. You could consider having one day a week where each member of the family can eat what they like – but do watch what your children are snacking on, as if they’re filling up too much between meals they won’t have an appetite for the family dinner.

Above all, never force your child to eat. If he turns up his nose at the meal you’ve prepared, then stay calm but be firm. Offering a junk food alternative will teach him that you’re prepared to give in, so just give him a piece of fruit and tell him he’ll have to wait until the next mealtime. Missing the occasional meal won’t do him any harm, and he’ll soon learn that if he’s hungry, he needs to eat the meal that’s on offer. 

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Answered by: Catherine Jeans, clinical nutritional therapist, www.thefamilynutritionexpert.com

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