Food is fundamental. We want our kids to be healthy and strong and we’ll do anything to make this happen. And so, sometimes we fight stubbornly about food with our spouses in ways we would never fight about bedtime or discipline. Perhaps this is because underneath it all, feeding our children is truly a matter of life or death.
Sure, it can be positive for kids to see their parents disagree and watch them work towards compromise. But when it comes to food and kids it’s usually not a pretty scene. Any couple who argues at mealtimes with their kids as the focus knows, the whole family might as well give up and go scarf down some junk food, because kids shut down and shut their mouths when parents quarrel about food.
Less frequently, but no less detrimentally, some kids feel compelled to eat to make peace. Unfortunately for these kids mealtimes become associated with conflict-avoidance, not care and connection. And certain foods carry negative associations for a long while, if not forever.
While being united with your spouse in your approaches to food isn’t a guarantee you’ll have a non-picky compliant eater, it definitely can help. So, try and remember this tips:
1) It’s best for parents to work out their food-related differences out of earshot, away from the dining table. Save the discussions for before meals begin, or after plates have been cleared. All kid-food discussions should be parents-only and private.
2) In those discussions work towards compromise. Remember that our beliefs about proper eating habits and food choices are based in our own experiences as children. Mommy was expected to clean her plate and never get up from the table until she did. Daddy was like a free-range chicken, allowed to roam around the dining table between bites, or choosing not to eat his meals at all. Mommy has great eating habits as an adult, and so does Daddy. They’re both healthy and strong now, both have relatively healthy relationships to food. No one is ‘right’ and no one is ‘wrong’.
3) Remember that food is fuel, first and foremost.
4) Remember always that food isn’t power. Food shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip or punishment. Not with your spouse, and not with your kids.
5) If at mealtime your partner has started a course of action that’s not your preferred approach, keep your mouth shut. Don’t undermine them in front of your kids. It’s best for everyone if you can table your gripes and go with the program. If you really disagree with what they’re doing, develop a hand signal to indicate your disapproval and let that hand signal be the indicator that you need to talk/disagree/argue about this issue in private later on.
6) Don’t create secrets with your kids around food. Undermining and sneaking treats, or sabotaging a meal plan behind the other parent’s back can be worse for your kids than trying to control the treats or meal plan to begin with. If you do change the game plan (and all parents do, at some point), perhaps giving your kid an ice cream cone before dinnertime, or changing out the salmon and broccoli for mac and cheese, fess up to your spouse in front of your kids. And if you’re on the receiving end of the confession, take the news gracefully and without rancor. Again, work out any residual gripes later, in grown-up privacy. Food and eating should exist in an family environment of openness and receptivity, not secrets and shame.
7) As often as possible make the atmosphere around meals a fun one. Enjoy cooking and eating together as a family. Cultivate an upbeat approach to clean-up afterwards. Every aspect of mealtime can be a part of meaningful family ritual. Each, a moment of happy connection your kids will remember always, and perhaps emulate with their own families in the future.