It’s getting kids to eat what parents serve that causes so many problems.

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DINA ROSE, PhD is a sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert empowering parents to raise kids who eat right.

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Entries in Control (38)


Let Your Kids Sit with Their Own Struggles

Many children need time to stare offensive food "in the face." They need time to think, to ponder, to consider, to struggle, to sit and stew. Eventually they'll eat.

This is a point I made in my last post Cooking with Kids, but since it was buried at the bottom you might have missed it.  It's such an important, and counter-intuitive point, that I want to revisit it here.

When it comes to getting kids to eat right most parents I know think they have to choose between being lenient and being strict.

Many parents also think it is mean to put a picky eater in a situation where he has to wrestle with his demons (or a well-crafted crontrol sturggle), but think of it this way: You wouldn't keep a shy kid away from social situations. Instead you would expose your shy child to carefully choreographed, and increasingly complex, moments of mingling.  

That's what picky eaters have to do with food: They have to mingle.  With a safety net (more on this in a moment).

I am not advocating a starve-it-out strategy.

In this month's Real Simple Magazine, Noelle Howey writes about how she put her kids through a picky-eater boot camp. Look at how she let her kids sit with their own struggles.

First, Howey established a set of rules that included general politeness and appreciation, and rules such as:  

  1. Three bites before you say you don't like it.
  2. Kids get to choose their own portion size.

Then, Howey proceeded to make a series of meals, some of which were "easy" for her kids, some of which were more "challenging."

Finally, THE SAFETY NET. Howey made sure there was at least one ingredient in each dish that her kids found palatable. 

A safety net provides your child with nourishment (so you don't have to worry he'll starve) but also gives him the opportunity—time— to think about eating whatever it is you've cooked.

I might not make kids eat three bites, and I'm particularly wary of "I don't like it," but, the key to Howey's system is this:

After the rules were established, Howey sat back and let her kids work through their eating issues on their own. She didn't beg, scold, demand or do anything else. She remained silent (and hopeful).

And her kids began to eat. Tentatively.  Read Howey's story.

If you're too lenient your kids never have to come to terms with their own food challenges.

But, if you're too strict, your kids also never have to come to terms with their own food challenges—because they get wrapped up in the struggle.

You have to expose your children to food challenges without too much pressure to help them grow.  Structure, with a safety net, lets you do that.

1) Decide not to fight about food.  Cook foods you like to eat.  Make sure there is something on the table your children will eat (even if it's not their first choice.) Ellyn Satter recommends bread and butter, but I recommend you switch up your "safety." (Variety creates a variety mentality; monotony creates a monotonous mentality.)

2) Let your children sit with their own internal struggle.  Get on your kids' team by finding ways to help them: Serve foods that aren't too unfamiliar; Teach your children how to predict what a food will taste like; Make sure there's a glass of water handy.

Might your picky eater still refuse to eat?

Sure, but that doesn't change a thing.  If you've put a safety out that your child should reasonably be expected to eat—he ate it yesterday for instance—then you've done what you can do.  Some kids need to choose NOT to eat before they'll chose TO eat.

But, if you completely cater to your kids' culinary demands you'll reinforce the pickiness rather than take steps to eradicate it.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Healthy Desserts for Kids

Dessert is magical.

In order to get dessert working for you, you've got to take it down a peg or two.  In most homes, dessert has way too much power.

Kids want dessert.  And, knowing this:

  • If you are parenting a picky eater, you probably use dessert to pressure your kids to eat more than than they want.  
  • If you are parenting an overeater, you probably try to restrict your child's access to dessert.
Research shows that pressure and restriction are parenting strategies that don't work.


You don't have to ditch dessert.  Just neutralize it.
  1. Serve dessert every night.  Read Dessert: How I LOVE Thee.
  2. Establish the rule that everyone who wants dessert gets it—no matter how well they've eaten.
  3. If dessert has a lot of power in your home, consider serving it at the same time as the main meal.

And then...change what you serve for dessert.

Serve fruit, yogurt, cheese or other healthy foods for dessert most nights, and sweet desserts only occasionally.

Need some ideas?  You don't have to serve fruit straight-up.

You can add a sprinkle of cinnamon, a dash of vanilla, or a dusting of powdered sugar to fresh fruit such as bananas, kiwi, oranges, cantaloupe, grapes, apples, mango, pear, cherries, blueberries...


Got a little more energy?

  • Grilled Pineapple
  • Mixed Berry Salad with Mint
  • Vanilla-Roasted Peaches with Raspberries
  • Broiled Plums with Marscapone Cream
  • Mango-Lime Rocotta Parfaits
  • Fresh Papaya with Coconut-Lime Yogurt  
  • Baked Apples
  • Roasted Fruit
  • Blueberries with Maple Whipped Cream
  • Apricot Fig Compote
  • Carmelized Pears
  • Carmelized Apples with Fresh Rosemary
  • Orange Sections with Mint Leaves & Honey
  • Carmelized Pineapple with Honey and Yogurt
  • Mixed Berries, Apples and Bananas
  • Puree of Apples and Blackcurrents

Many of these ideas came from Martha, others came from one of my favorite family cookbooks, Chef Bobo's Good Food Cookbook. (Every recipe in this book is a winner with kids—even the cauliflower soup. I kid you not.)

Want some ideas for serving yogurt? Read The Magic of Yogurt.

Change what you serve for dessert and you'll change how you and your kids interact around dinner.

You might even change how you interact during the course of the entire day. Less stress.  More success.  

There are so many kinds of fruit that you could have something different every night for a month. If you're willing to cook the fruit, you'll be able to offer variety every night for 2 months (or more).

But, if your kids do get bored with fruit dessert, consider your strategy a success—it's a sign that you've neutralized the biggest bully on the block.

And, it's a sign that you've taught your kids the habits they'll need for a lifetime of healthy eating. 

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Kid Eats Q&A: Help! My son would rather entertain than eat.

Everyone loves the class clown.

Clowns make things fun. They entertain. They make us happy.

Unless, that is, you're trying to get something done.  Like teach a class, or serve some dinner.  As a former college professor, this question really resonated with me.

Brenda writes:

I have a child who spends more time being the entertainment at dinner than eating his dinner. He is 7, almost 8 and from the time he could sit in a high chair, he has enjoyed dinnertime but especially because it's his time to talk and tell jokes and be silly. Sometimes he's out of his chair, most of the time he's in it. And I'll admit, he's so darn entertaining that it's hard to ignore him! He talks a mile a minute and asks a lot of questions--generally just an inquisitive and engaging child.

Brenda continues:

How much do we push our children to eat SOMETHING. Or is it the old, let them be hungry after dinner a few nights and they will then realize mealtime is the time to eat, not 20 minutes later?

Though I'm not a fan of pushing kids to eat more, and I believe that sometimes a little hunger can go a very long way, I think there's a better, more nuanced, solution than simple starvation.

Read Two More Bites and The Upside of Hunger.

Balance entertaining and eating by changing the mealtime environment.  

  1. Don't focus on the food...
  2. Or on how much your son eats. 

Instead, alter how you interact at dinner.

Read Meals: The Daily Struggle and When Playing is More Fun Than Eating

My 10-Point Plan for Feeding an Entertainer

1) Talk to your child about the importance of eating at mealtimes, and acknowledge that eating rather than entertaining can be difficult and boring.  Brainstorm solutions with your son, including some of the following suggestions.  Read Table Talk and Conscious Parenting.

2) Give your son 10 minutes of pre- or post-meal attention every night so he can revel in having an audience.

3) Limit snacks before dinner so your son is hungry when he sits down to dine.  Alternatively, consider giving your son a quality pre-meal snack (fruit, vegetables, salad, etc.) so you know he’s “good to go,” even if he never really settles down to dinner.

4) Teach your son to share the stage by giving everyone time to talk during meals. Consider using a talking stick to promote table time democracy with a visual cue of who has “the floor.”

5) Set some of the conversation by introducing a topic for discussion: politics, world affairs, geography, the pros and cons of something that's on your mind....

6) Require everyone to stay seated for the duration of the meal (even if standing would really, really enhance the story).

7) Decide, with your son, how much time he should have to complete his meal after the last other person has finished eating.  Use a timer if you think it will help.

8) Give your son gentle reminders to let him know how much eating time he has left.

9) Eliminate after-dinner snacks.

10) Remember to enjoy the nightly show!

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~