Do you prepare different meals for each child?  Here's how to find a better way.

Do you prepare different meals for each child? Here’s how to find a better way.

When a TikTok user bugstops kitchen Posted video in July per person The menus she gives her kids—each sheet offering a few options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that she knows a particular kid loves—have caused quite a stir. Viewers have watched the video more than 500,000 times and written more than 950 comments that reflect the debate over whether children should eat what is placed in front of them or be allowed to choose their own food.

Some commenters were horrified: “My kids eat what I serve. One wrote: “I don’t run a restaurant and I’m not a short-term chef.” Others liked, adding comments like: “I feel like this is a win. feel like they have [a] Say, you know they are going to eat, a decision is made on what to do. genius.”

on her Articles, a mother of seven (who did not respond to several email requests to discuss menus) explained that she set up the system because she was tired of throwing away food and didn’t enjoy bothering her kids to eat meals they didn’t want. She wrote that menus work like magic. “No more wasted food. No more tears over being forced to eat foods they didn’t like or weren’t in the mood for. No more feeding the dog under the table. No more trouble for me.”

But when it comes to feeding children, it doesn’t have to be an attitude that “you either totally meet your children’s needs or make them eat whatever it takes,” said Ann Fishel, a family therapist and associate professor at Harvard University, and her colleagues. -Founder family dinner project, a non-profit organization. Decades of research have shown that regular family meals can benefit children’s physical and psychological health.

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Feeding the family is a risky endeavor. And in some cases, parents need to provide different menus for children with allergies or food allergies, or for children with autism. “But for the vast majority of kids, we’re just talking about individual preferences,” Fishel said. “And I think there are ways families can honor these without being a cook for a while.”

By following this middle path, Fishel said, parents can help their children form healthy relationships with food. Here are some ways to approach mealtime that may help you find a good balance.

Prioritize eating together

Fishel admitted that the drive to feed children what they wanted was understandable. “Parents want to make their children happy, and giving them the food they love is a very rewarding way to do that,” she said. However, one of her biggest concerns in doing so is that preparing individual meals takes a lot of time and energy and may interfere with eating together and reduce parents’ energy levels to engage with the children at the table.

Blake Jones, an associate professor and developmental psychologist at Brigham Young University who focuses on health issues, agrees: “It’s very difficult to bring families together, although many people would agree that family meals really matter.” a 2015 review From the Family Meals Research it was found that the reported frequency of family meals per week varies from about 33 percent of meals to about 61 percent. (there Some evidence The epidemic has increased the frequency of family meals.)

Seven research-backed tips for making the most of family meals, no matter how often they happen

Research has found physical and psychological benefits for children whose families eat together. One study concluded that children and teens who eat with their families three or more times a week eat more food Healthier diets and weights of those who eat fewer than three meals a week. Another decided that frequent family meals improve mental health among teenagers. A review of previous studies suggested that frequent family meals make teens Less prone to risky behavior. Even the parents You can benefit emotionally from family meals.

Eating together doesn’t have to be a long, formal relationship. Search Led by psychologist and family development expert Barbara Fysi, she found that the average helpful family meal lasted only about 18 to 20 minutes. “That’s too short a time to associate it with all these benefits,” Jones said. “So it’s not just about eating together. Maybe that’s what you do during a meal.”

Focus on quality eating

One of the things parents should do during family meals is take a long view, according to registered dietitian and family therapist Elaine Satter. “When feeding children, the point is not to get them food today,” Satter said. “This goal is to help them learn positive eating attitudes and behaviors for life.”

Satter defines eating competence as “the ability of a child to go to and look at a meal without fear, to pick and choose from what is available, and to eat as much or as little of the food that their parents put before them.”

Competent people grow up eating regular meals, consuming a variety of foods and being comfortable eating, Satter said. “They generally have positive attitudes about eating, as opposed to this negative, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t do this or that. Studies also show that they have High quality diets.

By contrast, when parents indulge a child’s limited taste, “that child grows up to eat the same narrow range of food he started with,” Satter said. “Moreover, he is afraid of the food in the world.” Research has shown that Picky eaters She doesn’t eat healthily and has more social phobia than non-selective eating.

Sater advises parents who want to raise competent eaters to follow it Department of Responsibility in Nutrition, which says parents are responsible for what, when and where food is provided. The child is responsible for how much he eats and whether he eats.

Be understanding without serving food

However, parents should still consider the tastes of the child when serving the meal. “It’s part of the parent’s job, what, when and where to consider the child’s limited experience with food,” Satter said. When a parent plans a menu, they should always include “one or two food items that the child will readily accept or eat and usually enjoy.” Therefore, if the child reaches the table and sees a group of unfamiliar foods, he will also see something that he knows he likes. And even if the child does not eat, you can ask him to stay at the table to enjoy the other benefits of a family dinner.

By offering foods the child has not encountered before, “you give the child a chance to learn about it, to experience it, and to see someone else eat it. This is how tastes expand,” Fishel said. And if the child refuses? One night he doesn’t eat all that is on offer because there are some foods he doesn’t like.” After all, they might get something they like the other night. “I don’t think a parent should spend a moment feeling guilty about releasing that life lesson.”

There are ways to learn about individual tastes, Fishel said, while communicating the message that “we’re still family eating together.” For example, families can serve a meal, such as tacos or macaroni and cheese, which can be customized with toppings.

Let the children serve themselves

Sharing food from the same serving plate (Family style) Collaboration between both friends and strangers increased, according to a study by Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach. Although the study did not include families, “it is very likely that the same principles apply in this context,” Fischbach said.

Aside from the collaboration, serving family-style meals offers other advantages. By letting your kids serve themselves instead of wriggling around for them, Jones said, ‘You teach the kid, ‘Okay, get a little and see how you feel, and then, if you want more, you can take he-she.’ This helps children develop independence and learn to recognize the signals of satiety.

Satter also has dessert tips: “Put a serving of dessert everywhere on the table when setting the table. And let everyone eat it when they want to. Before, during, or after the meal. No seconds.”

why? Because when “we use candy as a lever to get them to eat their veggies, you teach them to overeat twice: once they eat veggies when they don’t want them, and then… eat dessert when they are already full of veggies.” You also teach your kids that dessert is the only valuable part. from the meal. “Anytime you use food as a reward, the food you are rewarded with becomes the food of choice.”

Don’t make food the centerpiece of family meals

It sounds a little illogical, but family dinners aren’t really about food. Fishel suggests promoting a situation that tells the kids, “We’ll have a bunch of foods on the table. Whatever you want. We won’t talk much about that. We’ll talk about your days, the news, and what we’re going to do this weekend.”

Whatever you serve your kids with, whether it’s the same meal or a combination of individual meals, the focus should be on the ambiance around the table. “The kids feel they can talk and people want to hear what they have to say,” Fishel said. “It’s a warm and welcoming atmosphere that really brings mental health benefits, cognitive benefits, and nutritional benefits.”

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