Experts are always telling parents to make food fun. I’m here to tell you that this is misguided advice.
I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with fun food. Everyone enjoys a little levity in their diets. I’m just saying you don’t have to make food fun.
I’ll even go one step farther: regularly making food fun teaches kids the wrong lessons.
Who came up with the idea that children shouldn't be expected to eat food unless it's fun? And that this is especially true for healthy food?
Now, I admit that for years, I plopped food on my daugther's plate in the shape of a face. But that was artful plating, not food art. And I didn't have to do it. Indeed, if I had ever felt that my daugther required (or demanded) the food art in order to eat, I would have stopped immediately.
The "Fun Food Factor" not only puts the pressure on parents, but it also distorts the power relations between parents and children.
Right? If you've got to present food in a way that pleases your kids, who is in charge? You or them?
Now, I'm not saying that parents shouldn't create some levity at the table. In fact, enjoyment— you know the kind where everyone likes being at the table— can improve how toddlers eat.
But I’m not talking about the “draw some ketchup happy faces on your kid’s plate” kind of fun. I’m just talking about garden-variety fun. You know, where your child actually enjoys eating. At the table. With you!
Research shows that eating enjoyment reduces picky eating. In other words, feed your picky eater some enjoyment, and your picky eater might just stop being so picky.
What lessons should kids learn about eating?
- Food nourishes the body.
- Hopefully, the food tastes good too. But sometimes, you have to eat a clunker.
- Kids should eat the food you serve because it makes them good family citizens.
Of course, in order to be good eaters, kids have to learn how to try new foods. If that's your struggle, read my step-by-step, blow-by-blow guide to introducing new foods.
It is the stress, not the lack of food art, that kills how kids eat.
Many kids simply shut down when they feel stressed about eating. And that's true even when the food is "fun." And that's why searching for the right design, or the right recipe, can't solve a picky eating problem. So make food fun when you want to, but not when you have to.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~
Source: van der Horst, K. 2012. “Overcoming Picky Eating. Eating Enjoyment as a Central Aspect of Children's Eating Behaviors.” Appetite 58: 567-74