Kids are known for a lot of things: their innocent nature, their bright eyed wonder, their ability to help us see the world in a fresh way. They are NOT well known for being adventurous eaters or for loving vegetables.
Most of the time when adults see my kids eat they say "He eats THAT?!" But as my oldest gets older, he's become more aware of what his friends are (or aren't) eating. He's become more independent and one of the ways he expresses his newly found power.
But mealtime is no sweat thanks to tips I've picked up or discovered along the way.
1. We serve progressive meals.
This is one of my favorite tricks. "Progressive" as in there is a progression to the meal, I took the idea from Karen Le Billon's French Kids Eat Everything. I love how it simply side steps huge food arguments. Your children's hunger encourages them to eat or at least taste a food that might barely get a second glance when paired with a main course.
I create a vegetable-based first serving-maybe a small serving of peas, carrots, small salad, raw cut veggies, or slaw. I serve it by itself (very important) in a small bowl (tiny ramekin or silicone muffin cup.) While our family eats it, the other food is sitting on the top of the stove cooling.
By the time they're finished with a serving (or often two) of the vegetable, the other foods (usually another vegetable with a protein) are cool enough to eat.
I love how it creates unity within our family's meal experience. Each new course creates a little excitement as we move from one course to the next together. It create time and space for conversation and connection.
2. Present one thing at a time.
Even when all of the food is on the table, I serve my kids one thing at a time-especially the baby. He just gets too overwhelmed if I give him a mini version of my plate. He ends up playing with the food (ie. throwing it) or leaving the table all together.
Even with my older son, if we put too many items on his plate (even one bite of each) we get a lot more whining than if he chooses one thing to go on his plate. When I give the kids a few bites of one thing and add a few bites of another, they eat more, stay at the table longer, and taste more foods.
3. Tap into the power of play.
Let's leave behind the shame. Period. The story of "You took it, so you eat it...There are starving people in...Throwing away food is wasting money..." is a shame-based tactic that creates a power struggle. Tt makes meal time miserable for everyone.
Instead...consider playing with the power your child is using. My son loves it when we tell him "Don't you DARE eat that broccoli...I'm going to look away for a minute...but I DON'T want you to eat it...I'm going to loose my mind if I see any of that broccoli gone..."
More often than not, while I'm looking away, he giggles then eats it. When I turn around and give him an exaggerated reaction, he falls into fits of laughter. And so do I.
Some days we have to get more creative with the games. I've made mustard people on romaine lettuce boats, pepper gondolas, created characters and scenes on the plate (like bento, but not nearly as good.) When I slip into that playful world with my child, we all end up happier and our plates a little cleaner.
4. Stay with them at the table.
No one wants to be left out or left alone-least of all kids. Kids often eat more slowly than adults. They're busy using dinner time to develop their motor skills, live in the experience, and chat or talk between bites. For them, dinner is just the background for playing and connecting with their parents.
With that in mind, even though my husband and I are finished eating before my older son one of us stays at the table with him-holding space for him to finish what he wants on his own time. He gets time to eat without feeling like everyone else has moved on without him.
5. Let them listen to their bodies.
There are days when none of the above works. Those can be the days when I want to take a bath in self pity and feel angry that I'm working so hard and my child isn't doing what I want him to do.
I take a deep breath and remind myself-my child isn't going to let himself starve. And there are some days when I just don't feel hungry either. Some days it's because I've eaten a lot of rich foods or had a snack too late. Maybe I haven't been very active or my body is battling an illness.
It's okay for me to have these days and it's okay for my kids to have them too. In fact, I want them to listen to their bodies. I want them to be able to tell when they're are hungry and when they are full and to follow those cues. I want them to be free from the idea that clean plate=good boy or that food is anything other than food.
I know the next meal will have plenty of nourishment for their little bodies and that they will be even more eager to accept it.
Remember there are people in the area with even better ideas than I have. If you want more ideas ornotice other digestive or health issues in you child, please seek professional help. One of my favorite resources is Jessica from Glow Nutrition. For determining if your child has food sensitivities beyond what is able to be found in a blood test, consider contacting Sarah from All Out Nutrition & Wellness, LLC.