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Stressed about family mealtime during isolation? This will lift the weight off your shoulders :)

Want to listen instead? Audio for less screen time!

First, can I just say, you are doing great 🙂 Taking care of your health and the health of your entire family is one hard job. But you are making your way through and for that, I sincerely applaud you!

Because of your brain injury, self-isolation may not be anything new to you. But having the rest of your family home 24/7 may be a layer you are not used to (after almost 2 full weeks of the kids being home, you’re ready to insist teachers be paid a billion dollars for their services ;D).

Child, Kids, Children, Food, Eating, Healthy, Little

Mealtime can be a stressful time for many families. Many families I work with say their kids are picky eaters or that different meals are cooked for each member to appease everyone. As if your job as a parent with PCS wasn’t substantial enough, now you’re also a short-order cook!

But what if I told you it didn’t have to be this way?

Just recently I was working with a family where the parents were trying to get nutrition into their kids, but felt overwhelmed. They said they struggled to get the kids to put down their devices at the table, and that mealtime was spent trying to encourage the kids to eat certain food items… Sound familiar? Well after a few sessions with this family, one of the parents came back to me and said “it’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders…” The devices are no longer brought to the table and the parents are no longer short-order cooking. Plus, the kids are fine with it 🙂


I know your brain is managing a lot right now. So today I thought I’d help you simplify your family mealtimes with 3 actions you can take right now.

Three things to help you de-stress at family mealtime

#1 Enlist your now home-dwelling family members

One bonus I’m seeing parents talking about during this self-isolation time is that more people at home, means more help. As a parent you are no longer chauffeuring your kids around to their extra-curricular activities. And if there is another adult working from home, they are now available to lend a hand.

Woman in White Dress Holding Stainless Steel Bowl

As for your kids, they may get bored. Great! Boredom is the birthplace of creativity and trying new things. Hire your kids on as “kitchen assistants extraordinaire.” They can measure out ingredients, bring you food items from the fridge, or chop some veggies if they’re at that stage. Kids are more likely to try and eat things they’ve had a hand in preparing. Plus, planning and cooking meals not only involves reading, writing, math and science, but it sets them up to become healthy adults, eating more than just the packaged noodles you may have lived on in college…

#2 Accept (as best you can) that kids waste food

A picky eater can sometimes be frustrating. I know, because I was one! (my mom laughs that I now help people deal with their own kids like me 🙂 ) It seems a lot of pressure is put on parents to “get nutrition right.” Sometimes parents may feel judged if their child isn’t the “perfect eater.”

Girl Wearing Red Shirt Lying on table Beside White Bowl With Cereal

Truth is, if your kid is questioning the food you give them, trying to assert their independence, or playing with their meal, this just might be appropriate development for their stage.

Let me put it to you this way. Imagine I handed you an object you had never seen before. It was a colour, shape, and/or texture you had not encountered. And then I told specifically you to put that object in your mouth! Chances are, you would say “no,” make a face, and maybe even get indignant… So why are we surprised when kids do the same thing?

For kids to get comfortable putting an unknown food into their body, they need to become comfortable with it. That may mean several encounters with that food before they eat it, which likely means some foods you give them will go uneaten and get thrown away.

Fruits In A Plastic Bag

Now, I completely acknowledge that accepting this is easier said than done. And especially not so easy at a time when income might not be so stable. At the very least, you will be less stressed at a meal if you can see that wasting food is not your kid’s fault nor intention — it’s a regular pattern we expect to see in kids who are learning to trust that different foods are safe for them.

#3 Stick to your jobs and let your kids do theirs

The guru in family mealtime is a dietitian and family psychotherapist named Ellyn Satter. For years she has been practicing, teaching, and researching her techniques for family feeding. One of her core principles is something she calls the Division of Responsibility.

The Division of Responsibility is all about adults having jobs and kids having jobs when it comes to mealtimes. Problems arise when adults try to do their kid’s jobs, or when kids are left to do the adult jobs.

The job descriptions go like this:

Adults are responsible for WHEN, WHERE & WHAT to eat.

Kids are responsible for IF & HOW MUCH they will eat.

Family Eating Pizza

So for example, it’s up to you as a parent to set the times of day you eat and where in the house this will be. Your kids need this leadership. The WHEN can be multiple opportunities throughout the day to eat (whether your child takes them or not), and the WHERE can be the kitchen table, or anywhere else you want to set the stage for your meal (picnic on the floor anyone??). What matters most is that you are taking charge and your kids can trust in you that you got these two areas covered.

The WHEN and WHERE is often the best place to start when it comes to working on family mealtime. But I think the biggest conflicts come from the WHAT to eat.

For example, have you ever tried to coax your child to try and eat something?

“Come on, just one bite…”

“If you try this food then you can have dessert…”

“Look! It’s good! Just put it in your mouth and give it a taste…”

Sound familiar?

Girl In Yellow Dress Covering Her Face With Her Hands

These coaxing tactics are not only a lot of work for you, but they also put a lot of stress & pressure on the kid. It’s up to you to offer the food, but that’s where your job description ends. Coaxing is trying to do your kid’s job of IF and HOW MUCH they will eat. Instead, offer up a variety of foods at mealtime, including a least one item you know your kid will like. Then, just literally sit back and relax and let them choose the items they will eat, and how much.

Person Serving Food

It may seem counter-intuitive, but it couldn’t be more in tune with healthful feeding. There is a lot more to the Ellyn Satter method. But give these job descriptions a try because right now, you are likely doing way more jobs than you need to 😉

Stay at home messages…

This time of social distancing presents some new challenges, but also some new opportunities for reconnecting with family & food. You don’t need to make things harder for yourself at mealtime. Relieve some of that stress with these three tips. And if you want someone to help with your particular family mealtime, especially with brain injury considerations, then reach out to me. But like, reach out online or by phone because unfortunately at this time I can’t shake your hand… ;P

Best in self-isolation health to you & your family,

Krystal Merrells

Registered Dietitian

PCS survivor

No longer a picky eater 😉