The Scoop on Food

4 Food Resolutions for Happier Family Meals

These four resolutions will help your kids become happier, healthier eaters!

Girl feeding herself veggies Oksana Kuzmina/Shutterstock
If you've already committed to exercising five days a week and quitting diet soda, you may feel like you don't need more New Year's resolutions in your life. But resolving to make some changes to how you feed your kids could have lasting, positive effects on their eating habits—and will likely reduce tension (and your stress level!) at the dinner table too. Here are four resolutions to consider:

Drop the "two more bites" routine: You know what I'm talking about ("You have to take two more bites of chicken and one more bite of carrots"). I used to do it too. But when my son turned to me one day and asked, "How many bites do I have to take until I can be done?" I realized that it wasn't doing any good or teaching him anything—except that he can't be trusted to figure out how much food he needs. Allow your child to decide how much he wants to eat. If he eats very little at mealtime, try saving the leftovers to repurpose as a snack later (here's how I do that with my own son). Serving "meal-type" foods at snack time (like cheese, veggies, fruit, and nuts) instead of "fun" snack food (like pretzels and cookies) will be helpful for kids who are passing up dinner to get to the fun snack later.

Serve veggies early in the day: Lots of kids are wiped out emotionally and physically by the time they get to dinner. They may not eat much dinner—or they may eat the food that's easy and favored (like pasta or bread) but not the unfamiliar or more challenging stuff (like the new Brussels sprouts recipe you're so excited about). If you serve veggies at other times of the day, like with lunch and snacks, there's not as much pressure for your kids to have them at dinner. A few years ago, I started a policy of only allowing veggies as a snack in the hour before dinner (read about that strategy here). So now my son nibbles on carrots and peppers while he's waiting for dinner to be ready—and if he doesn't eat much or any of his broccoli at dinner, I know he's already gotten a serving or two anyway.

Take dessert off a pedestal: Dessert shouldn't be a reward, and withholding it shouldn't be a punishment. Don't use dessert as a bargaining tool and don't make your child eat a certain number of bites of his dinner to get to it. In fact, consider serving it WITH dinner (read about that trick here) to take some of its power away.

Make one meal: No scrambling to prepare multiple meals like a short-order cook. No plate of chicken nuggets or special PB&J if your child doesn't like the main course. When you make just one meal for everyone, there's more motivation for your kids to try what everyone else is having and to become more adaptable. After all, there's an important life lesson involved: Not every meal is going to be your very favorite. Remember that you can still tailor the dinner to fit preferences, like serving things separately instead of mixed together. And be sure there's something on the table that everyone likes, even if it's simply a dish of fruit or plate of carrots and dip.

When it comes to feeding your kids, are there any resolutions YOU are making this year?

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.