I know what you are thinking. OK we know that we have to get our kids to eat healthy foods. Now how are we supposed to do that? First let me offer you some incentives.
The best reward for getting children used to eating nutritious meals is this: healthy children. Other rewards? Making one meal at dinner and all your children eat it and there is no need to be a short order cook. If you go to a friend’s house for dinner you know they will eat what is put in front of them or at least try it. You won’t be restricted on what you make for dinner. You can stay with relatives and know mealtimes won’t be a problem. It is up to us to make food choices for our children so that as they grow and become independent, they will make good choices for themselves. The bottom line is that if we cater to our children and let them eat whatever they want, no one benefits. Your children suffer the poor health consequences of poor nutrition and you become slaves to your children’s desires. Eating healthy should not be an option.
If you falter in times of trouble,
How small is your strength!
Roll up your sleeves and get ready. First step, make your mind up. Make your mind up that from now on, you are the boss, you decide what your kids will be fed. Second step, know that it is a long road and your meals won’t be harmonious until all of your children are at least 5 or 6 (that is, if you start when they are toddlers). If you are starting tomorrow and you already have a 4 or 5 year old (or older), it may take a year or two to get there.
Now let’s be seated. How? With toddlers in a highchair, highchair, high chair. Most small children really can’t handle eating in a big boy/girl chair. They will get up from their seats while they are eating, they are inherently messy and they don’t have the cognitive ability to understand how we behave at the dinner table.
Good habits start at home. If your child is not doing something at home, they won’t be doing it outside of it. Children can’t generalize. They don’t make distinctions between when a behavior is acceptable and when it isn’t. It either is or it isn’t. Therefore, establish this rule at home. If your toddler is refusing to eat then explain to him, “Daddy will clean you up and I will put your food away”. When he comes back for a “bite”, put him back in the highchair and place the plate in front of him. If he screams, take the food away again and place him on the floor while you explain that eating is for highchairs. If it happens a third time, put him in a time out (we will get to time-outs). Children eventually learn that there is a place for eating and a place for playing. They will not starve themselves.
Restaurants: Children will not sit in highchairs for hours upon hours. Dinner will not consist of a great conversation with friends when you have a toddler with you. The toys, distractions and meal will only last so long and then it is time to hit the road. Tiny people have tiny attention spans. But if you do have trouble at a restaurant, again, take them outside and explain to them that you will not go back in until they are ready to sit in their highchair (this does not include letting them run up and down the sidewalk- you will never get them to agree to going back into the restaurant).
For these commands are a lamp,
This teaching is a light,
And the corrections of discipline
Are the way to life.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten them to sit long enough to eat, how do we get them to eat? We have to have clear, consistent rules for any behavioral change to occur. Here is a play by play.
1. If you eat what I’ve put in front of you, you may have a special treat after dinner (cookie, ice cream, etc.).
2. If you do not eat what I’ve put in front of you, there will be no separate meal, you may have a piece of cheese, whole grain crackers, fresh fruit and fresh veggies. Here is the catch: NO special treat. (You must make “special” treat, “special”. If they are eating sugary snacks all day, they won’t care about the special treat. They WILL work for the cookie and eat what is on their plate if they are not eating sugar during the day.)
3. You must try everything on your plate. You don’t have to eat it, but you must try it. This doesn’t mean you get a special treat for trying your dinner- you must eat your entire dinner to get special treat. (Remember: they don’t have to eat it, but they must try it.)
4. If you do not try it, you will sit in time out for two minutes and the time outs get longer from there. (Every time you invite them back to the table you will ask them if they are ready to try their meal. If they are 4 and up, they can go to to their room until they are ready to try the meal (sitting on their bed, no playing or television-if you have television in their room).
5. If they are not willing to try the meal after above punishments, you will get a cheese stick, fruit and cracker meal.
6. If they try the meal but decide they don’t like it, they get cheese stick, fruit and cracker meal without “special treat”.
7. If you come to the table and say “Yuck, that looks gross, is gross, could be gross” or the famous, “I don’t like that”, before a crumb has even touched your lip, that is grounds for an automatic time-out. (When they are invited to come back to the table you must remind them that it is rude to make comments about food that someone else has prepared for them. Food is a blessing.
Do not over pile your child’s plate. A good rule of thumb is one tablespoon of each side dish per year of the child’s age. If they want more, they can always ask for more.
Again, keep in mind that this method takes a long time before things will run smoothly. Studies show that children do not develop a palate for certain foods until at least ten tries.
Also, keep in mind all the benefits down the road, number one: healthy children, number two: one meal, number three: the ability to take your children anywhere and they will eat what is put in front of them.
Do not give in. Do not end up giving them special treat for eating cheese, crackers and fruit. Remember; let them work for the cookie.
We must have endurance. We must also recognize (when you have already established great ground rules) when bending is appropriate. For example: If kids don’t like peppers and the meal is stuffed peppers. Serve just the meat mixture with the whole grain rice smothered in tomato sauce. If they try the pepper, let them slide, and they get special treat. When we are flexible, our children are more willing to accept the consequences when they come their way.