In case you missed it, here is a recent post from “Rosie to the Rescue”, my blog for Parents Magazine. Here I discuss how I manage my children’s varied eating habits and share my story of how I faced my son’s food fears. Don’t miss the rest of the “Rosie to the Rescue” posts, available here.
My three children eat very differently: One boy eats anything he can lay his hands on, the other: not so much. At one point he had pasta and butter with cheese on the side (on-the-side was very important) for almost every meal! And well, my youngest is just not that pleased that I am trying to feed her pureed fruits and veggies. She is much more of a milk girl, at least this week!
With all of them, though, I’ve followed the same philosophy of introducing good foods, wholesome and varied, making sure to give a rainbow assortment at each meal starting around their first birthday. But I’ve found that just like adults, children have different taste buds and are exercising boundaries at different times. What’s important to remember is that while food and children can sometimes be tricky, I don’t know a single adult who only drinks milk, or has never allowed anything other than buttered noodles to touch her lips! The key is patience, constantly trying new things (even if it doesn’t work), not making meal times stressful, and setting good food examples yourself (yes I am guilty of sneaking a little candy behind the cupboard door every now and then!).
I want to tell you a personal story when a few months ago my son started refusing to eat lunch at school. He was visibly upset and would cry when the teachers or I would encourage him to eat. We tried everything, even allowing him to choose things for lunch I could never in my wildest imagination have imagined giving to him. Frankly, I was desperate and just wanted him to eat something. And he still didn’t eat it. This was clearly not about food.
What worked for my son, who is 4, was to finally explain why we eat food, and what happens if we don’t. I didn’t sugarcoat it: I explained how sick we get when we don’t eat or drink fluids. That we end up in the hospital. And how fortunate we are to be able to have all the food and drink we need. To be so honest–and in a way, dark–was not easy, but it worked. It opened my son up to talk about what was really going on: He was afraid of the classroom in which they were eating lunch. But, he didn’t want to get sick. Bit by bit he started eating a little more. And week by week I swapped out the unspeakable lunch items that I had given him with much more wholesome options. I also gave him some control by saying, “If you eat your lunch and therefore have energy, you can stay up 30 minutes later at night. If you don’t, you must sleep earlier to get that energy.”
I’m not saying this will work for you as this was such a specific problem, or that the many ideas out there will work for everyone, from hiding foods in scrumptious recipes, to standing firm and only allowing your kids to eat what you eat. But what I am saying is if it seems your child is really trying to cut out so many foods and making so many demands–rather than simply not liking peas–maybe consider if something else is going on. And work with him. Food is often one of the few ways kids can assert control over adults, and they will begin to do it in a situation in which they might feel out of control (in my son’s case, the big new scary classroom, with new kids).
You know by now I am big on communication with your kids. They understand much more than we can ever imagine, and just as our environment affects our eating, so does theirs.
In a society so full of eating problems, I encourage you to set good examples for your children. Just because your child knows when you’ve tried to hide the broccoli in that muffin, don’t give up!