Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? The standard pledges usually involve drinking more water or hitting the gym more frequently. But this year, I hope you’ll consider making some resolutions around how you feed your family, because a few simple changes and shifts can have serious, lasting effects on not only their health but also their own long term habits and attitudes around food. Bonus: You’ll also reduce your own stress level at the dinner table. It’s a win-win!
Here are five resolutions to consider for the new year:
- Prepare Only One Meal. No more cooked-to-order nuggets or special PBJs. This is the number-one advice I have for families, and it’s never too late to start. (If your kids are little, start now. If your kids are older, start now.) It means less work for you and more motivation for your kids to actually eat what you’ve prepared. Keep in mind that it’s okay to serve meals deconstructed if your kids don’t like the sauce or don’t want their food mixed together. And it’s important to make sure there’s something on the table they like, even just a bowl of fruit or dish of rice.
- Stick To Your Job. Take a cue from feeding expert and dietitian Ellyn Satter who created the Division of Responsibility In Feeding. It states that parents are in charge of deciding what is served and when. Kids are in charge of deciding if and how much they eat. That means dropping the “two more bites” game or nagging/bribing/bargaining at the dinner table. Once you’ve put the food on the table, your job is done. So sit back and enjoy your meal!
- De-Throne Dessert. If sweet treats are on a pedestal at your house–the end-all-be-all, the thing your kids can’t wait to get at the end of the meal–it’s time to neutralize that power. How? Avoid using dessert as a reward, punishment, or as a bargaining chip in exchange for bites of vegetables. Decide how often you serve dessert (and how much) and let everyone have it who wants it. In fact, as Satter recommends, consider serving it WITH dinner. By including a small portion on the table with other foods, you’re conveying to your child that dessert is just like any other food. Your kids may eat it first, but that’s okay (as long as it’s a small portion, it won’t wreck their appetite and they can then focus on other things on their plate).
- Serve Veggies Beyond Dinner. Lots of families wait until dinner to serve vegetables–then feel disappointed if their kids refuse or eat a small amount. For some kids (especially little ones), dinner isn’t their finest hour and may not be ideal for serving unfamiliar or less preferred foods. Instead, serve veggies after school on a snack platter, pack them in lunch boxes (even if it’s just a few baby carrots), have your child add spinach to a morning smoothie, or pass around an appetizer tray of veggies and dip while you’re cooking dinner. That sends the message that veggies are a food we eat at many times of the day, not just dinner, and gives your kids multiple chances to enjoy them.
- Prioritize a Positive Dinnertime Vibe. I saved the most important one for last! More important than what anyone is eating or how many bites they’re taking is how your family feels at the table. Is it a welcoming, positive space where kids can be themselves? Or is it a place associated with nagging and threats of withholding dessert? When kids feel accepted and relaxed at the table, they’re more likely to not only open up to you and talk but also more likely to eat what you’re serving and even try new things occasionally too.