I have written before about getting kids to eat and it generated a lot of comments and more than a few were critical, see HERE. My post was discussed here, on Facebook and all over Pintrest. For the most part, people were relieved for help but not everyone. I was surprised that some people thought that I was mean and cruel and crushing my children's spirits. Seriously? Kids need to be guided into what is and what is not a good idea and this includes what is and what is not appropriate food. Remember, anti-freeze tastes good but that does not make it food and I would not let my kids harbor any thoughts that it is just my personal opinion and encourage that they develop their own. What is more, is I think it is important to start the kids off young, very young, in shaping their palates. This was the point that people asked repeatedly for more advice on and the one that I want to address today.
The number one rule in our house is: You get what you get and you don't throw a fit. Period. It is followed closely by: If you already asked and I already answered, asking again will not get you what you want it will only get you trouble. The basic premise of our eating rule is that if you do not eat it now, I will put it away for you and serve it to you every meal until you do. You will get nothing but milk or water until you eat your food. Don't imagine that I am some harpy bearing down on my kids. I do not employ screaming, stomping of feet or cattle prods. I just put it away with their name on it in dry erase marker and leave it at that. The most important thing is to never freak out at the kids because they will escalate the matter and then the whole event turns into a battle of the wills. I remain uber, even if fakey, cheerful about the whole thing. At some point, they get with the program. There is no choice. It may not be in the next fifteen minutes but when they get it, they get it and it will last a lifetime. This works, I promise, and it results in adults with a taste for a broad array of cuisines. Trust me. I have a lot experience with kids (I am expecting number eleven) and my oldest is in college now so I can say that this definitely works; this is not the advice of someone with two kids under four. I can see the results in a child who is now legally an adult.
Now, I know that there are some foods that each of us despise. For me, it is anything with anise. My husband cannot stand wasabi. So, I remember that there are some things that the kids just will never like and that is okay. But...they still have to have what we call a "polite bite" where in they have one large bite first and then they are done with it. They have to have this bite every time and I cheer them on when they take and offer high fives when they are done, and even something to wash it down. A part of this "polite" matter is that they have to be polite or they leave the table and can enjoy their "polite bite" later when they feel like being more polite. In order to be polite, we never tolerate bad mouthing food or insulting others what they like and insist on neutral statements like, "I don't care for that," or even, "I did not care for it the last time I tried it."
But when do we start? Well I do not serve my kids any solid food until they have a pincer grasp and can feed themselves. This was the advice of my great-grandmother. She told me, "If the Good Lord meant babies to eat Gerber, they would be born with a jar. Instead, they are born with fingers." Well said, Nana. I was also advised by the lactation consultant I used with my third child (I was not living close to my mother, grandmothers and great-grandmother at the time and she had a terrible suck) to start the children off with one tablespoon of food per year of age to three, of course between 18 months and 2 years you will be serving more than a single type of food at a time but still only one tablespoon of each kind. If they don't eat it now, they can have it later. No big deal. I put it away. If they are hungry later I will pull it out. If they want a banana instead of the leftover pork, I tell them that I will cut up the banana after they eat the pork. If they cry and scream, I hold cheerfully fast with pork in hand. At some point they eat it and then they have the banana. If they throw it on the floor, which has happened, I scoop it up and I walk away with no words. If they follow, I tell them that the screaming is hurting my ears and they need to scream in their bed where they are welcome to scream all they want. If they continue to scream, I take them to their bed for five minutes or so and leave them their alone. Then I ask, nicely, if they are done screaming. Sometimes it takes twenty minutes or more to get them to calm down but really, this phase is short. Soon enough they stop even if it means we do this routine a dozen times before they are three. I do not have screaming fits of rage in preschoolers because I deal with it early and I deal with it without a tantrum from mom.
This where most parents screw up. Whether it is bedtime, sugary cereal, carrots or wearing swim trunks in snow they resort to the same tantrum that they kids employ. Don't freak out, it only makes it worse. Obeying some social norms is important, you cannot get away with that kind of behavior as an adult and that means that children need to understand it and they need to learn it from you. It is not considerate of the other people around you and they won't listen to what you have to say if you only scream at the top of your lungs when you are frustrated. You, me, the kids, we all need to find a way to talk about it. I listen when they talk in a speaking voice. They may say the food is too hot, too spicy or if they have a sore throat or canker sore or something else that makes the food inappropriate for them at that time and I do make allowances. But from the very beginning I do not tolerate screaming or yelling or whining and I put myself in that camp. It is good for me, too. I don't come by my patience naturally, I am learning as I go.
There may be some of you who think it is too late to start, that your children are well past the toddler stage. I don't think so. The most important thing is that you set the standard for yourself. If the kids are tweens and teens you might need to sit down and explain what you are doing and that this is the new rule and that it applies to everyone in the house. The nice thing is that the screaming rule can apply broadly to all situations and to all ages. Every teen needs to know that if they need "alone time" to freak out that not only is acceptable but encouraged. Even parents need that freedom.
Have a baby? I have also written about feeding babies, see HERE. Spoiler alert: babies need boobs.
Want some great tips on getting kids to eat veggies? See my post HERE on making nutrient dense sauces and this post HERE on having kids help with the shopping.
(By the way, that photo was taken on Thanksgiving morning. My two-year-old Sophia was thrilled with breakfast. I had baked cheese croissants, which are a special treat around here, and she was thrilled to have one on her plate. This is her happy face and looking at it makes me happy, too!)