The other day I was saying something to my children about food when I realized I say it all the time. Then I made a list of the other things I frequently say during mealtime. In short, I try to teach important lessons using common sayings with a bit of humor.
So here are the 5 things I say most frequently at mealtime, and more importantly, why I say them.
1. Be Flexible with Food
Okay, this one I say before eating but it’s important to include. I say “Be Flexible with Food” when my kids are going to eat at someone else’s house or we are going over to friends for dinner or to an unknown restaurant. I follow with more info such as remembering their manners, not yelling “I don’t like it,” and taking the food that is offered even if they aren’t sure they want to eat it.
Big A gets this, but Little D still needs the reminder. I find preparing the kids and managing expectations for the eating experience helps a lot.
Little D has this habit of grabbing his food and eating it while standing up. It drives me crazy and I always follow this behavior by asking him to sit down. Often, he’ll get on the chair but not sit directly on it. So when I say “Two Cheeks!” it means I want his entire bottom — both cheeks — on the seat.
It’s become a joke in our home and the kids now know that if one of their cheeks is not on the chair, it’s at risk for getting pinched.
3. What Does Your Tummy Say?
I’ve been saying this one the longest. Typically, when my kids ask for more food or dessert, I ask them what their tummy says. Sometimes it’s a “more” and other times they will decide they are full.
According to one study, child care providers often give cues for children to eat more without references to hunger or fullness. Examples include asking children if they want more food without referring to fullness, telling children to eat, try or finish food, and praising children when they eat more food.
The researchers call helping children recognize hunger and fullness cues “intake coaching” which is when parents accept their children’s hunger cues but help them to make appropriate choices. “What Does Your Tummy Say?” is my low key way of helping my children assess how hungry they are before taking food.
4. Food Deserves Your Attention
During meals, sometimes the kids look around, decide to get up or turn while eating. I remind them that “Food Deserves Your Attention.” The point is food is important in our house and when we eat, let’s pay attention and be mindful. More in this post about why it’s important to pay attention to meals.
5. Save Your Appetite for Dinner
At home, we are sure not to eat leading up to dinnertime so my kids have an appetite for dinner. But when we go other places, there are often appetizers they like to snack on. When they keep going back for more I remind them to “Save Your Appetite for Dinner.” They don’t always listen but I do it anyway.
The last time we ate at grandmas, Big A realized she ate too many pretzels and watermelon and just wasn’t hungry for dinner. She was kind of sad because it was one her favorite foods, chicken. So hopefully with the reminders and this natural consequence, it will sink in.
And really that’s what’s behind these little sayings. Kids may not take heed the first or twentieth time you say it, but eventually, it becomes what they do.
What do you say to your kids at mealtime?
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