Family dinners

When you have young children, meal times can occasionally feel like a war zone. We’ve all heard of the fussy eaters who will only eat fish fingers, throw tantrums at the hint of anything green, or only tolerate potato when in chip form.

Getting kids to eat properly can be even harder when they have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Food is an essential part of your child’s health, wellbeing and social life. With a bit of creative thinking and open communication, you can help them manage their IBD and maintain a positive relationship with food.

Keep food fun

Food not only needs to taste good, it needs to look good. Taking the extra effort to dress up healthy, boring or IBD-friendly foods can make them more appealing, and put the fun back into meal times.

Take Brussel sprouts as an example. They look totally gross when they are boiled to a grey pulp. Try a dash of honey, a drizzle of lemon juice, or toss the little leaves into a colourful salad.

With a little bit of creativity and MasterChef flavouring, any meal can turn into a masterpiece. If your kids think fruit is boring in its natural format, maybe present it like a kebab on a skewer. Yoghurt could look like a sundae or parfait (accompanied by stewed fruit which is easier on the tummy). A salad sandwich could be made to look like a traffic light or clown. The fun ‘looks good, tastes great’ principle is especially important at school to stop kids with IBD feeling like their diet makes them miss out on interesting foods.

Communicate

Your child’s life is likely to be full of school trips, birthday parties and exciting family adventures. Unfortunately, these kinds of events are all but guaranteed to feature problem foods for people with IBD. Letting teachers and other parents know about your child’s condition will help raise the level of awareness and give them practical solutions to help your hungry child. Provide them with a help sheet that lists ‘safe’ foods, emergency instructions and answers to some IBD FAQs. That way, parents and teachers can ensure there are IBD-friendly options available for your child when they are throwing a birthday party or hosting an excursion. With these precautions in place, all your child needs to do is to simply turn up and have fun.

Be patient

Unlike other kids, when a child with IBD doesn’t feel like finishing everything on their plate, it can often be because their digestive system simply isn’t up to the task. Although this can make it hard to try and maintain a sense of discipline at the dinner table, the simple fact is that their condition makes them feel this way, not a desire to misbehave. Be prepared to have dinners rejected and plates occasionally left full.

The best advice we can offer is to talk it through with them. Instead of getting frustrated when yet another meal is turned down, ask them why they don’t feel like eating and what else they’ve consumed that day. This communication will let them know you’re listening and may even help identify previously unknown trigger foods.