Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Entries in Pressure (12)


The Surefire Way to Stop Fighting with Your Kids about Food

Here's the surefire way to stop fighting with your kids about food. Stop pressuring them to eat differently. Instead, put some structure in place that teaches your kids how to eat.

Pressure is the enemy. I'm not kidding.

Parents often overlook how much we pressure our kids to eat differently. I get it. All to often it doesn't seem like there is any other solution. 

Pressure and control are twin dynamics. Pressure is a form of control. And kids who feel pressured often respond with control of their own. Leniency seems like the opposite of pressure. It's not. Structure is the opposite of pressure. 

Pressure involves trying to convince, coerce or punish your kids.

Pressure usually involves lots of back-and forth, negotiation, and stress. Pressure engages your children in a struggle. Sometimes pressure looks like it's working because it kids back down quickly. But if you have to use the same techniques night after night, your pressure tactics aren't working to change anything. They're a bandaid.

Read You Can't Make Me Eat It!

Listen to the Happy Bite Podcast The Perils of Pressure.

Structure is calm. It is comprised of rules that are applied consistently. There is no fight.

Think of a healthy structure as the car-seat rule: you and your kids both know that they ride in car seats. After the initial struggle, everyone accepts the car seat. You need the same kind of rules for eating.

Unlike the car-seat rule, however, eating rules can be—actually need to be—a little more flexible. You don't have to implement the Rotation Rule every single day no matter what else is going on in the universe. However, bend the rules too much and they break. Your foundation will come tumbling down.

How do you know the tactic you have chosen revolves around pressure and control? You feel like:

  1. You are trying to get your child to do something.
  2. You notice your child is resisting.
  3. You wish things were different but you don't know what else to do
  4. You negotiate, to appeal to your child's inner logic (even though she doesn't seem to have any) and then you resort to bribing, begging and then, maybe even punishing. 

In other words, you feel like you and your kids are adversaries. Read more about The Pressure Cooker Problem.

With structure, there are clear rules and clear consequences that are the foundation for behavior. 

With structure, there isn't any back-and-forth between you and your kids. 

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Are You and Your Kids on the Same Team? (Or Are You Adversaries?)

This might seem like a silly question, but when it comes to food and eating, do you and your kids feel like you're on the same team?

Or do you feel like adversaries?

I've written a lot about power lately. Catch up by reading Kid-Approved Meals and The Problem of Playing Power Ball.

If you're parenting a toddler, chances are you feel like adversaries...a lot of the time.

That's unfortunate. Understandable, I would add, but unfortunate. And it's got to change.

You can't shift how your kids eat while they're in enemy-mode. 

As long as your kids see you as trying to force them to eat differently they'll dig their heels in— without even considering whatever it is you're asking them to do. That's one reason why kids often say "no" to eating something before they've even tried it.

Your kids need to feel like you're on their side. That you understand their perspective. And they need to trust you.

Imagine sitting across from your kids at the table.

Now imagine sitting side-by-side with your kids.  Which feels friendlier? Friendlier is better.

The feeding relationship is predisposed to being antogonistic because you and your children naturally have different feeding/eating goals. 

  • You want your kids to eat a healthy diet, or try a bite of something new, or eat their veggies.
  • Your kids want to eat whatever it is they've decided they want to eat, and it definitely doesn't include anything healthy, new, or green.

It's easier than you think to turn your kids into teammates. Just give up the nutrition mindset.

And adopt a teaching approach instead.

In other words, instead of trying to "get" nutrients into your kids, or trying to "get" them to eat something new, ask yourself, "What does my child need to learn in order to... (fill in the blank)."

This is a long-term perspective. We're talking the forest, not the trees.

Bring your kids onboard.

1) Parents often forget to explain their feeding goals to their kids. "I know you don't want try new foods, but it's important to me that you learn how because..." Read "You Can't Make Me Eat It!!"

2) As parents you are allowed to teach your kids things they don't want to learn. Brushing teeth? Sitting in a car seat? Going to bed at a decent hour? 

3) It helps a lot if you acknowledge the elephant in the room. "I know you don't want to eat vegetables, but it's important. And sometimes parents have to teach their kids things their kids don't want to learn. It's my job."

4) It helps a lot a lot if you acknowledge your child's feelings. "I know this is going to be hard (scary, painful, etc.) for you, but I'm going to help make it easier."

5) Develop a plan where the steps are incredibly easy. Kids are more willing to do easy things than difficult things—especially if they haven't bought into the goal. Read Encouraging Kids to Eat.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~ 


The Problem of Playing Power Ball

Control around food is almost always expressed as if it's a ball being thrown around.

First the parents have the power ball: "You will eat the meatloaf I made or no dessert and no tv."

Then, the kids have the power ball: "No, I want chicken nuggets. I'd rather starve than eat anything else."

Some parents think they're not playing ball at all. But, if you always make your children's favorite foods before they demand them your kids own the ball. And they're not sharing.

Power was the underlying theme of my last post, Kid-Approved Meals. Here we're going to address it directly because power struggles underlie a lot of your food struggles.

If you've read any parenting literature you're probably familiar with the four parenting styles. 

  • Authoritarian: Children are expected to follow the strict rules established by the parents, and the children aren't given much if any input.
  • Authoritative: Parents establish a strong, but compassionate structure. Children are engaged.
  • Permissive: Often associated with indulgent. Very warm and compassionate with little or no structure.
  • Uninvolved or Neglectful:

Parents often get stuck going back and forth being authoritarian and being permissive because they (mistakenly) believe that these are the only choices they have.

You start with the style you're most comfortable with. When it doesn't work, though, most parents flip to the other style. When that approach doesn't work any better—their kids still arent' trying new foods, and still aren't eating more vegetables—parents ultimately end up reverting to their original position. Back and forth they go.

Sound familiar?

(Note to public health professionals: It's not like parents aren't trying!)

The solution is to find the middle ground: authoritative parenting.

Authoritative parents are successful because they create an eating structure that is firm but flexible. And that's the winning ticket.

1) Set some guidelines to form a structure: I recommend you consider using the Rotation Rule and establish regular times for eating and for no-eating. I call these Eating Zones.

2) Offer your children choices within that structure. This produces shared control.

3) Engage in Sensory Education.

4) Stop looking for the "perfect" food. It doesn't exist. What kids will eat has more to do with their brains than their taste buds. Read You Can't Feed Your Way Out of a Picky Eating Problem.

5) Recognize that taste preferences are formed more than they're found. This is how Indian kids end up liking Indian food and Mexican kids end up liking Mexican food. Read Food Culture and What it Means to be "Child-Friendly."

6) Remember, young kids don't have stable taste preferences, so what they like actually can change from day-to-day. Expect some bumps in the road.

For more on this, read The Goldlocks Approach.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~