Think about the last time you caught an episode of MasterChef. Imagine the reaction of the aspiring chefs if one of the judges were to spit out their food, wail “NOOO!” at the top of their lungs, and sweep the plate to the floor.

It’s safe to assume they’d be fairly demoralised and none too thrilled at the prospect of cooking for this tyrannical judge again the following evening.

But if you’re the parent of a baby or toddler, there’s every chance you’ve had a similar experience. Family meal times should be an enjoyable and relaxing full stop at the end of a busy day, yet often parents find themselves locked in battle with a baby who’s declared war on greens/lumps/anything that’s not crackers.

Take heart: there’s light at the end of the spaghetti-smeared tunnel. The first step to bringing peace to the dinner table is simple: relax!

Kids can sense your anxiety levels

If you’re on the verge of nervous collapse due to your baby’s limited food intake, keep in mind it’s much harder than you might imagine for babies and toddlers to develop nutritional deficiencies. Even the fussiest of pint-sized diners will usually eat enough to meet their daily requirements.

Babies are very good at gauging when and how much they need to eat. If your baby has eaten half her meal, then turns her head away and refuses to take another mouthful, simply remove her plate. She’s probably had enough, even if it doesn’t seem that way to you.

Meal times should not be cause for tears (baby’s or yours). If dinner becomes a merry-go-round of tantrums and parental pleas to eat just two more mouthfuls, your baby will get the message that meal times are stressful, and respond accordingly.

Incorporate baby’s meal times into your own. Most babies love the social interaction that family meals afford, and tension levels plummet when bub’s food intake is not the sole focus of your attention.

Watching siblings and parents at the table gives baby the opportunity to see how and what other people eat. It also gives you the chance to relax, talk to the other members of your family and, perhaps most importantly, eat your own meal.

What is ‘baby-led weaning’?

Many experts now promote what’s known as ‘baby-led weaning’. This means that rather than following a prescribed regime of certain foods at different ages, baby is offered a selection of foods that they can feed themselves. Think broccoli stalks, vegetable croquettes, cheese, steamed carrots, rusks and meatballs. Evidence suggests that babies who eat this way are more likely to be accepting of a broader range of foods later on, and less likely to reject ‘lumpy’ foods.

Allowing baby the freedom to feed herself also makes it easier for you to enjoy the company of everyone else at the table, as babies relish the chance to demonstrate a little independence. Your baby will likely be too preoccupied with refining the delicate art of eating mashed potato with her hands to bother with tantrums!

It’s also important to remember that a lot of children need to try a new food up to 10 times before they’ll happily accept it. Don’t get disheartened if your culinary efforts are repeatedly met with a clamped mouth. Demonstrate to baby how much you are enjoying your food, and she may just follow suit.

Try this taste test

Another great way to encourage fusspots to try new foods is to garnish the first few mouthfuls with a tried and true food. So, if you’re bub is crazy for her pouches of pureed fruit and nonplussed by the bowl of porridge you’ve presented her with, try squeezing a little of the pouch on top of the heaped spoon.

Often, your baby will discover that not only does she like the fruit, but the stuff underneath it is quite tasty, too.

By placing the emphasis on meal times as family time rather than ‘shovel as much food into the baby as possible’ time, you’ll find meal times can actually be an enjoyable and relaxing* part of your day.

*depending on how loose your definition of ‘relaxing’ is!