A boy eating pizza.


Should I Make My Child a Separate Meal?

Jun 8, 2018

This is a question I get asked a lot. Parents come to me frustrated because another meal — sometimes their little ones’ favourite meal — has been rejected… again. I get it. It is frustrating when a meal that you prepared with love and thought goes straight into the compost, or worse, onto the floor first.
What gives? The truth is there are many reasons your toddler might be rejecting a family meal. Maybe they’re not hungry, too excited, it could be just their mood, or the fact that a food is yellow. Toddlers are unpredictable!

I understand that you may want peace of mind knowing that your little one is well-nourished. When frustration kicks in at your toddler’s food refusal, it’s understandable to want to whip up their go-to faves. I’m talking about cheese and crackers, toast and peanut butter, yogurt and a banana… anything that will fill their bellies before bed. Something to eat has to be better than nothing, right?

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Sure, this might work in the short term, but we want to set our kids up for success in the long run. And letting them control what’s served at mealtimes is changing the feeding dynamic (and not for the better).

Here’s the thing: making separate meals, or catering to their relentless requests, will only enable picky eating. It tells kids that they never have to eat what’s served. Not only does this cause increased frustration and waste your time, but it also makes them less adventurous eaters.
If your toddler has the opportunity to choose from the food that is served, without pressure, they will eventually learn to be more flexible at meal times, and more confident too! It takes patience (and a lot of practice), but it will happen. To help you enable your toddler to actually eat, without having to be a short-order cook, I’ve listed some well-tested strategies below.

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1. Serve something for everyone: Who has time for individual meals? You’re not running a restaurant! There are no made-to-order meals. Instead of cooking separate meals to accommodate every individual (parents included), plan to have a meal with at least one food that each person at the table enjoys. That way, if your child (or spouse) doesn’t enjoy something served, there will be another option! By doing this you are setting mealtime boundaries. You are not catering to individual needs, but you are being courteous and acknowledging that not everyone will enjoy food the same way.

2. Serve family-style meals: Take the pressure off! Serving meals in a family-style way allows kids to pick and choose from what is provided. You are still in control of what food is served, but by offering food that has been broken down into components, lets kids choose what they would like to eat. My favourite family-style meal is pasta. You could have a variety of vegetables chopped, meatballs, sauce, cheese and so on. And it’s okay if your child only picks and chooses a few items. By transferring a little bit of control to your toddler you are actually building their eating competency!

3. Have a tester plate: If your kid is refusing a lot of the foods served, you may want to try a tester plate. Simply add an extra plate at their spot at the table. This is where foods that are unfamiliar, scary or “yucky” can go. Kids don’t have to eat them, or even taste them, but they can touch, lick, smell, stack or taste and politely spit back out. It’s a safe (and fun) way for kids to explore food, without the added pressure of “clearing their plate”.

Article Author Sarah Remmer
Sarah Remmer

Read and watch more from Sarah here.

Sarah Remmer, RD, is a pediatric registered dietitian and owner of Sarah Remmer Nutrition Consulting, a nutrition consulting and communications company based in Calgary, Alberta. Her website and blog contain practical tips and advice for parents and families on feeding and nutrition (everything from pre-natal nutrition to teens), as well as nutritious and easy recipes and videos. Follow Sarah on Facebook for free advice, tips and family-friendly recipes!

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