Fussy eaters and 2 plate dinners


Do you have picky eaters who have somehow come under the delusion that your kitchen operates like a restaurant and dinners are made to order? Perhaps mealtimes are a chore and constant battle is being waged with a child who feels that the meal you have served fails to fit within their stated parameters of acceptable food preferences. Take heart, today’s training tool is for you.

The pervading advice around the traps seems to be along the lines of “Keep meal times positive” and “offer a variety of healthy choices and children will be sure to eat some of them” etc etc. Now I know my own children and their response to these methods would have been very positive – “I positively will not be eating these vegetables” or perhaps, “Thank you Mother dear for this wonderful array of spring vegetables, but tonight I will be having the sausage and bread with a side of sauce and perhaps a dash of mayo.

As a Mother, my aims for our children regarding meals are fairly straight forward. I would like my children to:

  • eat what is set before them
  • do so with a positive attitude
  • keep negative opinions to themselves
  • be able to eat what someone else serves them in a social situation regardless of whether they like it or not
  • be willing to try new things
  • finish within a reasonable timeframe

There are obviously exceptions to the rules. Sick children will not eat well, babies (especially those without all their teeth!) are not expected to plough through a plate of carrot and celery sticks and I do not serve mind blowingly hot and spicy meals etc. But within reason, I expect my children to eat what I serve.

They all have food preferences, in fact so do I. I often do work around these, but only once the children are characterised by eating what they are given. Every now and again, my tomato hating daughter is served a slice of tomato in her sandwich and is expected to choke it down. The mushroom hating son is occasionally expected to slide one of those little suckers down his throat without gagging. I do not serve him a bowl of mushrooms or her a heavily laden tomato bruschetta. I do teach them to quietly put the offending morsels on the side of their plate without comment. (Our rule here is that if they complain aloud about said offending item, they will eat every bite. If it silently appears on the side of the plate it can stay there, unless previously stated that they will be eating it this time.)

If you have ever been at someone else’s house and had one of your children loudly and rudely state that they do NOT like this food and refuse to take even a bite, you will know why I have chosen to occasionally deliberately give them something they prefer not to eat.

So now for the 2 plate dinner tool. It is very simple. Place a small amount of whatever food it is that your picky eater will likely be reluctant to eat on one plate and the rest of the meal on the other. The plates are both set in front of the child at meal times, however the least liked plate is directly in front of them and the rest of the meal is a little out of their reach, but where they can still see it.

With a positive tone and pleasant attitude, explain that you will happily pass them the second plate once they have finished everything on the first plate. Inform the child calmly that when the rest of the family is finished their meals (or at a time set by you) both plates will be removed and dinner will be over. That’s it! No nagging, force feeding, threatening or anything else.

Ensure that you do not give any snacks before the meal that would take away from their appetite and do not allow the child to have a glass of water or anything else before the first plate is finished. Keep the serving very small to begin with and you may even like to have dessert on the table for a meal or two as an added incentive while the initial training is taking place. I always start with other foods that I know they love to eat, as well as a tiny amount of the veggies or whatever else we are battling over.

You may find that they do choose to go without the first couple of times. But if you stick to your guns, give no other food until breakfast, ensure they are hungry at dinner time and not full of snacks, milkshakes or drinks, this will envariably do the trick.

We will face battles with our children at some time or other. For some, eating is never an issue but the challenges arrive in other behavioural areas. With others, the battle is fought and won during meal times and spills over into positive progress across many other areas.

Out of the five children who eat solid food we now have 4 very good eaters. This has not always been the case. The fifth child is in a league of their own and is improving, but I won’t shock you with how we are dealing with those issues just yet!! (Let’s just say that they are becoming intimately aquainted with the laundry.)

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