Q. Our kids have issues with food. One will only eat this, the other will only eat that, and they get so stuck on one thing, they refuse to try anything new. How do I get some nutrition into my children without a major battle?
A. There are two things you must never get into a battle over with your children, and that is their input and output. In other words, do not argue about food and toileting issues. That said, we all want our children to eat nutritious food, especially when there is such struggle with obesity in our country. Parents need to decide very early on about how they are going to manage meal times in their home. In my home I make a meal and if you are hungry you will eat it. If you choose not to eat it then you know when the next meal will be and you can eat then. We also have a “Must Try It” rule. Each time something is served that you don’t really like you must still try it. My grandmother told me as a young child that the more often you try something the more likely you are too acquire a taste for it, and I have to say this has been true for me.
Children will not starve, because it is not human nature. If you don’t make a big deal out of eating they won’t either. it is imperative to explain to your picky eater with dignity and respect that this is what’s for dinner, “If you don’t want to eat, that’s fine. You will have breakfast in the morning.” The chances that your child will be hungry later in the evening are pretty high if they refused dinner, but if you are consistent and remind them that they made the choice to skip dinner and reassure them that they will be okay waiting until breakfast soon they will learn to eat what you put in front of them. The key here is to be non-reactive to the choice they made. Do not give the “I Told You So” speech and do not get involved in a bargaining and negotiation situation over their hunger. The next night you might consider asking them to tell you one thing they would like to have with dinner, and make it for the family. The next time they turn up their nose at your beautiful dinner you can remind them, “I remember when you didn’t eat because you didn’t care for what I made, and you were hungry at bed time.” Leave it at that.
When you are ready to set clear limits around what you cook for the family, and give choices when you are willing to give them, you will no longer be a slave to your children’s palates, and they will be well-adjusted, gracious diners.