"I don't like that"

"I don't like that"

"I don't like that"

Most parents identify conflict avoidance as their top mealtime goal.

It is well established in the field of nutrition research that parent’s mealtime(feeding) behaviors influence their children’s eating behaviors; parenting style, modeling of eating behavior, meal frequency, and food exposure (trying new foods) are all associated with child’s mealtime behaviors including fruit and vegetable intake. 

But a recent study wanted to examine the role that parent’s mealtime goals (their desired mealtime outcomes) might play in influencing their feeding behaviors. Why ask this question? Because parents’ mealtime goals – and any potential conflicts that arise between them – may help explain parent’s behaviors and reframing those mealtime goals could be a useful strategy for improving mealtimes.

Although the primary objective of the study was to develop a reliable measure that captured parental mealtime goals, the researchers further examined the extent to which parents endorsed (or agreed with) these goals. And - for me - this is where the research got really interesting.

An 18-item questionnaire was produced with seven dimensions including stress/conflict avoidance, homemade food, shared family food, family involvement in mealtimes, price, occasional treats, and high/low fat regulation.  “Some differences were found in the goal structure of parents of children of different ages but stress/conflict avoidance was the most strongly endorsed mealtime goal for all age groups,” wrote the research team.

Let me say this another way: doing what ever it took to reduce mealtime stress and avoid conflicts at the dinner table was the primary driving force behind the way parents acted and the foods they provided ... regardless of their children's age.

What this often means is parents giving-in to their kids' requests (ahem ... demands) for their favorite foods. And the practice of giving the same thing over and over makes it all the harder for kids to try something new down the road. On the other hand, if we knowingly give them foods that they are unfamiliar with, many kids will not feel comfortable trying anything new at all.

So, what can you do? Here are a few tips:

  • Offer foods they like and are "learning to like" with each meal.
  • Don't pressure them into eating a lot of the "learning to like it" food. A little taste is ok. 
  • If they don't want even a little taste, let smelling - or just touching - the new food be an acceptable first step. 
  • Offer a couple of "learning to like it" foods and let them choose which one they want to try. 
  • Allow your kids to choose what foods they want to practice tasting. 
  • Practice tasting new foods each meal - or at least each day. Tasting (and expanding your palate) is a skill that needs regular practice!