Simple changes at home

8 Ways to Deal With Food Challenges

By Lexi Walters Wright

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Family meals and snacks fuel your child for success at home, in class, on the field and beyond. Food can also be the root of daily battles—but a few simple changes could make a big difference.

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Grandfather bringing his grandson an after-school snack
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Set (and stick to) regular mealtimes.

Kids with learning and attention issues especially benefit from consistent daily mealtimes. Children may feel less anxious and more able to concentrate on schoolwork if they know when their next meal is. Read more schedule tips to make your (and your child’s) day simpler.

Two young children sitting on steps outside eating snacks
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Offer snacks.

Kids who get too hungry between meals may act up or lose their focus. Offering snacks midmorning and midafternoon can help. Consider crackers, nuts, fruit, yogurt, cheese, hardboiled eggs, hummus or cut-up veggies.

Close-up of a young boy opening a snack box brought from home
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Pack snacks to go.

Try to have nonperishable munchies on hand in the car or your travel bag. You’ll be glad you did if there’s bad traffic or other reasons mealtimes get delayed.

Mother and young daughter feeding each other carrot sticks
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Go easy on comfort foods.

We crave sugary, starchy foods during stressful times. But these can make you feel sluggish and interfere with concentration. Try to keep your and your child’s meals and snacks as balanced as possible.

Father engaging his son in helping make dinner
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Involve your child in meals.

It can be fun for kids to choose and help purchase, prepare and serve meals. Following through with meal contributions could also boost their self-esteem and make them more likely to try new foods. When children assist in the kitchen, they work on life and academic skills without even knowing it. For example, measuring ingredients is a low-pressure way to connect math to everyday life. And following a recipe strengthens reading and retention abilities.

Young boy contemplating his breakfast cereal choices
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Slowly introduce restrictive diets.

If your child’s doctor suggests he should be on a special diet, try finding substitutes for favorite foods. For example, if your child is going off gluten, offer corn chips and corn tortillas, gluten-free candy and packaged gluten-free snack foods to smooth the transition.

Young boy supervising as his mother packs his favorite snacks to go
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Bring food along for picky eaters.

If new tastes are a problem for your child, bring a small, insulated container full of your child’s favorite foods to family gatherings, parties or other meal-centric events. Suggest trying one or two new foods, but don’t push it. If it causes your child to have an outburst, it might not be worth your efforts.

Young girl eating dinner with her family
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Eat as a family when you can.

Sharing meals with your children has an incredible number of health benefits. Studies show eating together can do things like lower rates of obesity and eating disorders in kids and adolescents, contribute to higher grade point averages, increase self-esteem and improve vocabulary. It can also decrease the likelihood of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression.

For ideas on finding time for family dinner, recipes for great food and mealtime conversation starters, visit The Family Dinner Project.

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About the Author

Portrait of Lexi Walters Wright

Lexi Walters Wright is a veteran writer and editor who helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Donna Volpitta

Donna Volpitta, Ed.D., is coauthor of The Resilience Formula: A Guide to Proactive, Not Reactive, Parenting.

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