Photo credit: Bruce Tuten (Flickr)
There you are in the dining room stadium preparing for a mealtime showdown. It's you, the caring, health-conscious parent versus your challenger, a willful, anti-veggie eating child. If this sounds at all like your meals, you are not alone. I've worked with many parents who vent frustrations about the battles they have with their children over eating...usually vegetables but sometimes other foods, too. I can definitely understand your pain because it's not as if I've been immune to a battle or 2 or 10 of these myself;) However, I'm not here to relish in our pain but rather to offer you a strategy that works. Whether your child is 3 or 15 or 3 going on 15, this is something that can work for all ages. Just keep two things in mind:
1) It's your job to feed and your child's job to eat.
2) You are in charge of what, when, and where your child eats. Your child is in charge of deciding how much or whether to eat.
These are the principles of the Division of Responsibility in Feeding developed by Ellyn Satter. I use them myself. I recommend them to others, and I've seen them work. Trust the process!
Let's start here. Imagine that when it comes to meals and snacks, someone else is always telling you what you can and cannot eat or trying to coerce you into eating something that you just don't want to eat. How do you think you'd feel? Maybe you'd feel a lack of control? Therein lies some of the problem when it comes to feeding children. You really want Johnny to eat the broccoli. It's good for him. Why won't he eat it? Maybe he doesn't feel like he has a choice, so he is making his choice known. It's a loud and clear NO!
What if Johnny was given a choice? Let's say that Johnny and his family sit down for a family-style meal, and you let him choose what he'd like to eat. What if he doesn't eat the broccoli? Is that okay? Yes! Making an issue of Johnny eating the broccoli will do just that...make more of an issue of it. He will be just fine if he doesn't eat the broccoli. Maybe he doesn't like it? Maybe he needs to get to know it a little more first with a few more exposures? It can take up to 20 exposures to a food before kids try and learn to like some foods. If it's snack time, maybe you give Johnny 2-3 different options to choose from rather than one. Those three options could include three very nutritious foods or maybe you include one of his favorites, too. Even if that favorite food is a cookie, maybe it's an oatmeal raisin cookie that you prepared with love and high quality ingredients. It's okay to enjoy food. It's okay to enjoy cookies sometimes. It's not something you have to do all the time, and that is the beauty of the Division of Responsibility in Feeding. You are in charge of what you offer your child.
Offering children choices allows them a sense of control over their little world. When children are given the opportunity to practice their independence and responsibility, they learn valuable decision-making skills. It's very interesting to see my daughter when I give her mealtime options. In fact, I recently offered her one of three snack options: ice cream, an orange, or a nectarine. She thought about it for a while...longer than I'd ever imagine! Guess what she chose? The orange! Amazing! When children are allowed to make decisions about food, it minimizes those mealtime showdowns, which are really no fun for anyone, and helps them learn to enjoy a wide variety of foods. It may feel uncomfortable to start because you will be giving up some control, but remember that as long as you remain true to the Division of Responsibility of Feeding, your child will learn to become a successful eater.
What food choices could you start giving your child today?
For more on child nutrition and feeding, you may want to check out these books:
Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense
Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: Orchestrating and Enjoying the Family Meal
Or these previous blog posts:
The What and When of Feeding a Toddler
The Where of Feeding a Toddler