Don't Fear the Food Fight
And two years later and many, many meals later, Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and the Families Who Love Them was on store shelves.
If you heard me on CBC’s Definitely Not the Opera on Saturday (and yes, I am cooler just by having some proximity to Sook-Yin Lee) then you heard a little bit about power struggles at mealtimes. But to sum it up, picky eating is less about the food and more about control, control of your kid and their own need to control themselves.
Every cell in a kid’s body is moving towards separation from you, which is a perfectly healthy part of growing up. Your kids are choosing to reject your fabulous food because it gives them power over you and as a bonus also control over their own bodies. Because despite the yelling, the bribery and the threats you can’t really force your kids to eat.
When I read Ellyn Satter's idea that the parents are responsible for preparing and offering healthy food but the kids are responsible for choosing what to eat and when. I started to shift my idea how to handle meals. Once I realized that kids share the responsibility to learn how to feed their bodies in a healthy way, it was easier to let go. As parenting coach Alyson Schafer says, when you are in a tug of war, drop the rope.
Here are some things you can do to take the stress out of mealtime:
- Fire the Short Order Cook. Yes, that’s right the whole family gets the same meal. No more making dishes for each of your children (and partner). If they don’t like the food they can have a yogurt.
- Predictable Meals and Snacks: Enough said?
- Serve it Family Style: All the food goes on the table and everyone serves themselves. This ensures that the kids learn how much food they need to feel full.
- Serve One Food that Even Your Pickiest Eater Will Eat: If you don’t want your kid coming to the table with an agenda then you have to make sure there is something they can eat. But that something should be a component of the meal that everyone is having, and yes, stale bread counts.
- No Bribery, No Bargains: Sorry, if a kids sits at the table then they deserve to get dessert, even if all they did was smell the food. Dessert should not be the prize, especially when dessert is a child-sized dish.
- Hunger is Punishment Enough: If your kid decides that dinner is not for them, that’s ok. Missing one meal won’t hurt them and may teach a valuable lesson about what it feels like to be hungry. And since you have created a reliable schedule, snack time is never far away.
- Start Your Kids Off Right: As soon as you can think your baby can handle it (10 months or so) start feeding them the same food that you are eating, just cut up in smaller pieces. If your dinner is good enough for you then it should be good enough for your kids. Start giving your kids flavourful and diverse foods early on and they will be less likely to expect bland food later.
And if that wasn’t enough rules, here are a few more:
- No saying yuck
- No yelling, no lectures and no guilt trips.
- Focus on connecting, not on the healthy components of each part of the meal.
- And if all else fails, order take-out. Kids are a lot more likely to try strange food that is brought to the door by a stranger.
And I can happily say that we are a success story, not like an Oscar-worthy success, but the entire family can get through a meal together. My son now eats foods of different colours and flavours (and so do his siblings). But I have to be truthful, it ain't perfect over here. In fact tonight's dinner was a complete disaster, only two out of the three ate anything but bread... but luckily, I have three more chances to mess it up tomorrow.
Pass on your worst picky eater story. How do you deal with your kids when dinner disintegrates?