There’s a lot of talk these days about how to get your kids to eat. There are many manuals and memoirs (some of them quite interesting) about what people do - rules, regulations, dietary restrictions . . . in some cases baby boot camps where they force feed your child (who is strapped into a high chair until the food is all gone – I wish I was making that up).
But really, it’s all about approach and finesse and what not to do.
With that in mind, here are ten things that you need to give up before your child will come around to the foodie way of doing things.
10 Things to STOP Doing (So that Your Child Will Start Eating)
- Assuming the “High Chair Face” means what you think it means. Keep this in mind: 3 Bites to actually taste. 10 servings to actually enjoy. All tastes are acquired . . . except breast milk and chocolate.
- Deciding that your child isn’t getting anything out of prep when they choose not to eat it anyway. We’ve all been there – the kid has a special knife and they’ve got a cute apron and a mini-me prep bowl and a mini-me cutting board and they’ve diced and seasoned and stirred! You plate, you serve . . . your forehead hits the table as your child very calmly says “don’t like that” and then requests cheddar bunnies. The solution is not removing child from food prep. The solution is not prepping cheddar bunnies and dino bites and stick cheese with a side of milk. The solution is keeping on and making a huge deal to anyone who hadn’t witnessed it that your child cooked and your child is awesome. Do this in front of your child – then invite a taste. But do not push the eating.
Actual conversation in my house
Me: “Hey, Little Dude, why don’t you taste that artichoke leaf? It’s in the lemon butter you helped make!”
Baz: “Um . . . I don’t think so.”
Me: “Just a lick, it’s pretty tasty.”
Baz licks: “Hey, that’s pretty good.”
Me: “I know! Do you want some more?”
Baz: “Um . . . no.”
No sweat. More for me. Two nights later he ate 4 leaves. Progress is progress.
- Making Food Fuel – food is more than fuel – it is all-encompassing. If stopping for meals is a chore for you, it will be a chore for your child. If it is purely a gas-n-go situation, it will be so for your child. Do whatever you need to do to make at least one meal a day (or as often as your can manage) feel like you’re on a well-deserved break. Bring out the good cheese and the good bread and the good beverages – even if it’s take out pizza, make it the BEST take out pizza you can afford and serve it on plates with napkins and sit at the table (or have a picnic, better still) and really savor the flavor and the feeling of recharging. Talk about your day and talk about the food. Share a favorite pizza memory. Like that time you played truth or dare and someone dared you to put strawberry on your Build It Yourself Pizza – “with tomato sauce or it’s too easy” – and how now it’s one of your favorite unexpected flavors. Particularly with pineapple. See what your family shares. Make a memory. The best memories involve food in some way, don’t they?
- Getting emotional about what your child is not eating. Think about all the foods you do not care for. Now imagine that your plate is loaded with them and someone whom you usually respect and enjoy is flipping out at you to just eat your food already! Regardless of how you react, that situation is unpleasant for everyone. Encourage tasting. Encourage actual ingesting. And if they choose not to eat, they choose to be very hungry for their next meal (or snack). Perhaps not caring so much whether every single pea is ingested will do everyone some good.
- Sticking to the kid’s menu, which is a $5 plate of mac-n-cheese that is likely the same thing in the box in your pantry. Spring for the good stuff – at least you’ll like the leftovers. The downside for this is when you do and your kid loves it. Then even your own plate is in danger. That masago to the right there? That came off of my hamachi roll. Mine. Baz just loves his Fun Popping Balls. (Hey just because it’s not on the kid’s menu doesn’t mean it can’t have a kid’s name.)
- Not growing anything. Food shouldn’t be foreign. Your child should see the progression from seed to table. The “brown thumb,” “no space,” and “no time” arguments are all valid, but can all be trumped with this card: food is science and science is experimenting.
Use Pinterest and the good ol’ fashioned library for small space gardening solutions (they’re there. Trust me.). Contact local homeschool groups or garden clubs or science teachers and ask about what can grow inside and in containers. Potatoes in a sack by your front door? Sure! Green onions in a vase by your sink? Yes! Sun + air + soil + water + seed = food. Grow some.
- Never having sweets/carbs/junk food. Life is to short to skip dessert every night.
- Bribing/threatening – you ratchet up emotion, you make something other than the full belly and happy taste buds the reward. Food is its own reward. Also – think about the precedent this sets: do you really want a kid who’s behaving out of either a fear of punishment or a sense of entitlement? Neither do I.
- Placing limits or enforcing a clean plate – then it’s about willpower and not about the food. Also, see above re: fear/entitlement. Furthering this: serving your kid. Family style is where it’s at. Fine motor skills, portion control, a bit of adventure . . . let your child take control and determine how much he thinks his stomach can hold. It might just be the tiny step he needs to join you at the table.
- Worrying that a missed meal is akin to starvation. I will give you two things to remember when it comes to a few refused meals:
a) when your child is a teenager, you will wonder how you ever worried about how little he ate; and
b) toddlers are like snakes: they exist on air for a week, ingest a whole mouse and spend a week digesting it, exist on air, eat an entire mouse . . . you get the picture.
Tomorrow is a new day with new food and better attitudes. Embrace the newness because this time, your child won’t just lick that strawberry, he’ll bite it.
All photo credits: Author