“If you don’t finish your dinner, you won’t have any dessert.”
As I said the words, I could practically hear my own mother, and her mother before her, saying that exact same phrase. My son threw his head back in a dramatic show of protest against my rigid and crazy rules. I sighed.
I remember well enough when my own mom would say things like “Clean your plate before you clear your plate!”, “That’s what I made. That’s what you’re eating.”, and “You’re not leaving the table until you finish everything I’ve put on your plate”. While I can’t be sure that these moments were the cause, I still feel pressure to eat everything on my plate when I sit down to eat, whether I am hungry or not, whether I like the food or not, or even when I’m in a hurry.
This struggle of the ages visits every family dinner table on occasion. How can I get my child to eat what is good for them? Or, in a more modern variation on the problem: how can I get my child toWANT to eat healthy food?
I have heard a million family traditions built around this basic struggle, and I’m the first to say that I think there isn’t any one-size fits all answer. However, there are a few strategies that break away from what moms used to do that get results. Some of my favorites are:
Whether it is breakfast, or dinner, give your children food in courses from least favorite items to most. It is a good way to get them to eat a substantial amount of each item without too much complaining. Since kids tend to eat better when hungry, offer the peas, broccoli, or spinach first, then offer the meat, then the toast, the fruit, and finally the yogurt, in ascending order of preference. Using this strategy, I’ve noticed that my son is often sated and happy much sooner, and even forgets to ask for a dessert.
This takes more time, but it can be very effective. Involving your kids in the preparation of the food can really open them up to trying things they might balk at or resist. It is especially effective, if you and other adults try the foodthey prepared, and express appreciation for it.
Peppering your meal with songs, rhymes, and stories about the veggies and fruits you are eating can engage your kids fast. They are much more likely to eat a carrot stick that is “a piece of dynamite that will explode and destroy us all unless somebody eats it!” Than one that is merely a requirement for leaving the table.
However you decide to move into the war zone, remember that ultimately it is getting the nutrition into our kids that is the most important thing. Sometimes it will come down to “because I said so.” and that is okay too.
That’s How Mom Did It.