You know what it's like… you spend ages cooking a delicious, healthy meal for your children only for them to sit down and turn their nose up at it.
As a parent, these moments can be soul-destroying – you just want your kids to eat a balanced diet and develop a love of food. So how can we help our children learn to love their meals?
Baby and child nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed, who is working with children’s brand Stokke, has shared her top kids' mealtime tips with HELLO!. Charlotte, we're all ears…
MORE: Joe Wicks' roasted vegetable soup recipe is our kind of lunch!
WATCH: How to make bread without kneading
10 Mealtime Routines for Creating Little Foodies
Charlotte says: "The way we talk about and act around food at mealtimes can actually have long-lasting effects on how our children’s relationships with food develop.
"We also know from research that children’s eating behaviours and patterns of eating track. So the kinds of foods they eat when they are younger (babies even!) really can make a difference to how they eat as they get older too.
"Today I’m going to share with you 10 mealtime routines to help you create a little foodie, who will hopefully go on to love their foods just as much as we do!"
Eating together regularly as a family is important
1) Sit together at mealtimes
"Babies, toddlers, children and families can all benefit from sitting together as much as possible at mealtimes. Some of the old traditions of 'sitting down for dinner' have been somewhat lost in today’s society, with everyone being busier and perhaps more distracted or just not at home so much.
"However, sitting together for meals can bring families together, allow for learning, playing, listening and the development of social skills. It can also encourage learning about food and actually help make mealtimes an enjoyable occasion for all ages.
"Research conducted by Stokke explored the importance of eating meals together as a family and found that 49% of participants believe eating together as a family creates a happier child, while 34% believe it creates a more confident child."
MORE: Jamie Oliver's budding chef son Buddy shares genius supper hack
2) Eating together
"Sitting together and being present at mealtimes helps, but actually eating similar things can also help children to accept a wider variety.
"Some research shows that families eating together is a big factor in positively influencing the diets of their children, so as much as you can, try to role model what a balanced diet looks like, and it’s likely your little ones will follow suit.
"Remember babies also learn the what and the how of eating from copying their parents and those around them too. The research showed that 60% of families will always eat their family meals together at the dinner table."
3) Involve babies in mealtimes
"Even from an early age, try to involve your baby in mealtimes and food occasions by bringing them up to the table with you and allowing them to become a part of the meal.
"Try to have certain times or days when you all sit and eat together as a family and build it into your routine, so it becomes a regular feature and an expected part of the day."
Baby and child nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed
4) Make choice part of your mealtime routine
"Kids are more likely to eat something they feel they’ve had a say in, so instead of just plating up their food, ask them first, 'Do you want X or Y with your dinner' or, 'Would you like spaghetti or rice for dinner today?' for example.
"You could also try offering multiple sides and giving them autonomy to choose what they want. You’ll probably be surprised how much more gets eaten when it’s them calling the shots.
"Younger babies don’t often have much choice in their meal options, but try offering them a variety & following their lead."
MORE: Peter Andre's wife Emily reveals secret to children Amelia and Theo's healthy diets
5) Ask children to help
"Not only does building this into your evening routine give parents a bit of a break but again getting them involved helps them to feel more 'part of it' and can make mealtimes more of an occasion.
"Ask for help with laying, mixing, serving or (dare we say it) clearing up at the end of the meal."
6) Get them cooking with you
"Building fun life skills lessons into your family’s week can help little ones learn the art of cooking, and even with toddlers, it can be really fun to get baking.
"Making bread or cakes can be simple and for older children helping to build on their essential cookery skills may help them uncover hidden talents, as well as hopefully encouraging enjoyment in cooking and preparing foods with the family.
"Stokke’s research found that 61% of parents let their children help with dinner, with 45% doing so to help teach their children life skills."
Make mealtimes fun by getting kids involved in food prep
7) Ask about their day
"Why not try kicking off mealtimes with a quickfire question round to find out how everyone’s day was? Or start off with a simple game.
"Making these kind of approaches a family tradition can bring families together and help make mealtimes a bit more fun and more of a social occasion too.
"If you can start when they are young, then when they are older they are likely to just accept it as the norm and want to continue to be involved in those meals (we can hope!). Young babies will also pick up from fun and enjoyment shared at these mealtimes and therefore be more likely to want to be part of it too."
8) Make mealtimes fun
"On that note, trying to make the mealtime environment fun and enjoyable for all can be key to having children who actually want to be a part of the family meals and also eat the foods you’ve got on offer.
"Try to keep mealtimes light and avoid negative topics as much as possible. Play some soft music and avoid it becoming a negative space that the kids are eager to avoid.
"It’s easier said than done, but sometimes stepping back from the table and observing where a few little tweaks can be made is all that’s needed. Fifteen per cent of parents said that eating together has become an occasion they look forward to during the pandemic."
MORE: Victoria Beckham's favourite bread recipe revealed – and it's so healthy
9) Talk about food
"At mealtimes have conversations about the meals and foods on offer; allow honest opinions and maybe even make a game of rating the meals for the week. This can help children and toddlers to really think about their foods and their likes and dislikes a little more as well as being mindful about the foods they are eating.
"Eighty-two per cent of parents worry about the nutritional value of the food they are serving their children and want to ensure they are getting the balance right."
10) Keep the pressure off for everyone
"Think about what’s eaten over a week, not day to day, and avoid coaxing little ones to eat or ensuring kids stay at the table until they’ve finished the meal. All of this can impose negative associations around foods which is ultimately what we want to avoid if we’re trying to create little foodies.
"I appreciate that these routines won’t work for everyone and that we all live such busy lives that some of these just won’t be possible to fit in. But perhaps some of them might help your baby, toddler or fussy eater to start enjoying those mealtimes again and therefore becoming less reluctant to enjoy their foods."
Leading high-end baby brand Stokke are hosting a FREE weaning webinar, 'How to raise a confident foodie and help your baby love their broccoli as much as their cake!' Charlotte Stirling-Reed Nutritionist and Author will be on Zoom 28th April at 8pm. Visit Event Brite for tickets.
Nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed is the author of new book How to wean your baby that publishes on 29th April but available for pre-order.