OK, so how do I convince my kids to eat whatever I make?

Getting my children to eat whatever I cook for dinner every night is an ongoing process. Some things I try work, others totally fail. Here are some of my better ideas . . . or at least the ideas that work with my two children.

Only one bite required. Our rule is that everyone must try everything on the plate, every night. They do NOT, however, need to finish it. This took a while for my husband to get used to, because he grew up in a strong Clean Plate tradition. Once my kids understood the rule, they were much more willing to try everything. Forcing kids to eat a certain quantity of foods will make them unwilling to try new foods, or foods they have disliked in the past. There are nights where my daughter eats one bite of everything on the plate and is then done. That is fine by me, because she needs to keep trying foods to expand her taste buds. She is in no danger of starving, and usually eats a good breakfast, and lunch, and snacks at school. More often, though, she will try one bite and figure out it is OK, and eat a lot of it. But she is never allowed to refuse to try it.

Bribery works wonders. Despite our requiring only one bite, we do reward good efforts at meals with dessert. I know doctors say you shouldn’t reward children with food, but I see it more as making dessert a normal part of a healthy meal. The kids have to make a decent effort at dinner in order to get dessert. What is a decent effort varies widely by the night, the child, and my energy. The kids still need only take one bite of everything, but at least something on the plate needs to be eaten in a good quantity. Then they get to pick their dessert.

The Kitchen is Closed. This line I stole from my mom, who would go crazy if we entered the kitchen after she cleaned up after dinner. I am more of a softy, so I allow unlimited fruit after dinner and dessert. But nothing else. No extra snacks, no second chances at dinner. It only takes a few nights of kids refusing to eat well, being hungry, and being told no, before they get it and agree to eat dinner. This will be very unpleasant for a stretch of time, depending on what your kids are like, but eventually it works. The fruit only thing works in my house because my son doesn’t eat enough fruit. So if I serve a dinner he doesn’t eat enough of, he ends up chowing on fruit, which is a bonus. If your kids love fruit, you will need to adjust this rule. Because they are sneaky, and will skip dinner and just eat fruit.

Kids will not starve. Kids are stubborn as hell. Especially my kids, it seems. But most kids will not starve themselves. It may take a few days, or even a few weeks, but eventually they will stop asking for fish sticks and chicken nuggets, and eat whatever you put in front of them. **Of course, if your child has nutritional concerns, you should follow your doctor’s advice.**

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2 Responses to “OK, so how do I convince my kids to eat whatever I make?”


  1. 1 Sarah Hu January 27, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    This is very interesting, since my childhood was quite different. Half of it I attribute to the Chinese culture of the obedient child and the other half (or maybe two-thirds) I attribute to ‘strong’ (perhaps stubborn) female characters.

    My grandmother’s expectation is that I ate everything, including the spinach I really did not like, drinking the entire bowl of bland soup, and I had to have seconds (of rice), because I was a ‘growing child’. Of course doing so entitled me to ‘dessert’ which was frozen juice popsicles (pour your own juice into plastic containers with lids that have handles). She was very serious about healthy food, so a lot of meal time I would pinch my nose and force it down. (I’m not sure if that actually helps, something about the smell contributing to the actual recognition of taste?)

    My mother was slightly more lenient in that she wouldn’t force me to eat food I didn’t like — she more or less kept track of my preferences (I was a very picky eater) and most of the dishes at meal time I liked (I was mostly allowed to ignore the ones I didn’t). However, she was very insistent on me finishing the entire bowl (think, salad bowl size) of food. Which I was unable to do a lot of time, but would have to sit at the table until entire I managed to do so, or my mother finally released me.

    I never elected for snack time, but rather, would be given fruits to eat sometime after dinner. (and of course was expected to finish)

    Although I do not plan on having kids in the near future, I guess this is a conversation I will need to have with myself, sometime.


  1. 1 It is just a phase. « One Dinner Trackback on October 4, 2011 at 6:44 pm

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