Offering a Second Meal Option at Mealtimes

Often at dinner time, we have a child and a parent who are just over everything by the end of the day. Dinner time is usually the most stressful meal of the day and we have often have the most variety of foods at dinner. It can be a bit overwhelming for children, particularly with a parent who is feeling a little bit stressed and tired. This is typically when we fall into the offering a second option trap. It’s ok for this to happen every now and then! Sometimes we are just too tired and we do not want to have a discussion or argument over it. It’s ok, just give your child an alternative meal, sometimes it can help them sleep better.

Sometimes we can find ourselves offering a second option for weeks or months on end and this can develop a “their food” and “my food” perspective, and so the expectation is not given to the child that they are going to eating the same food as their parents or carers in the long run.

In order to transition away from preparing two meals at every meal time, the first step is to have everything on the table as part of the meal ready to be served from the table, plus their preferred food. This means that the child has the options of choosing the meal that their parent is eating, or having their “own” food. The hardest part of this as a parent is to allow your child to eat as much as they want of whatever meal you have put on the table. For example, if you have rice, curry and vegemite sandwich on the table and the child only chooses the sandwich then that’s ok! It’s a case of letting that go and keeping the bigger picture in mind. They are still being exposed to the food by seeing you eat it and they still have the option of putting it on their plate and both of those things are steps and progress towards increased acceptance of food. They may do this for several weeks or months before they are willing to try the food that you are having as your meal. Once a child realises they have true autonomy over what goes on their plate, and also realises that there is not going to be a fuss about their food, they feel less anxious about meal time and more confident to try something new.

This is just one step in a complex issue. The take-away is that your child is seeing one meal with something that they enjoy available to them as part of that meal, rather their food being different from everyone else’s food. This means there is no food reward or food hierarchy being created.

If you have a picky eater, you will probably benefit from a consultation with one of our clinicians at Therapy Alliance Group.