This is such a common–and understandable–grievance for parents, and I hear it all the time. Nothing is more frustrating than spending an hour to prepare a healthy new recipe for dinner, only to have everyone pick at it, move it around the plate with their forks, and ask to be excused. My first question to parents is: “What is your child’s after school ‘routine’ like?” I often have kids dropped at my house for a nutrition session with a juice box or “flavored” milk in one hand and an unopened bag of Goldfish (yes, the big bag) in the other hand. If this is what little Jessica is consuming between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon, I am not too surprised that she is not ravenous at 6:00pm when it’s time to eat “real” food at dinner.
Hunger is often mistaken for thirst, and kids rarely drink enough water at school, so I always bring a freshly filled water bottle to school pickup. Do NOT arrive with a sports drink–they have been learning math, not running the Boston marathon. And I am a big fan of the after-school-snack. But kids have small stomachs, so choose your snacks wisely. Our “go to” snack is a green apple cut up with natural peanut butter and dark chocolate chips, and a can of flavored seltzer. The goal is to keep your child alive until dinner, and give them enough energy for an after school sport, but NOT to feed them a fourth meal. If your child is asking for snacks nonstop between 3:00-5:00, they are probably genuinely hungry, so why not serve dinner at 4:00? It sounds a little odd, but parents tell me this has been a lifesaver in their house. Then prepare a snack when you and your spouse have dinner, and your child can join you at the table.
I also tell parents that if your child has a small appetite, make every calorie count. Serve them steak and broccoli, and wait on the mashed potatoes until they have a chance to eat a few bites. A small serving of pasta with plenty of bolognese sauce on top. Scrambled eggs with bacon–hold the bagel. Kids will often fill up on the Tater Tots, and leave their hamburger untouched…but they can’t do that if there are no Tater Tots. It’s not about “depriving” kids of the foods they “like”. It is about finding a balance–there’s that word again!–between proper nourishment and the foods they enjoy.