It is mid-summer and maybe you are thinking that any nutrition goals you had for yourself or your kids will “just have to wait” until all of the vacations, summer grill-outs, and sleep-overs for the kids are behind you. Let’s face it: most families admit that summer is a difficult time to change kids’ eating routines and food choices. In fact, it is very likely that the last time you tried to suggest something green or unpackaged for a snack or meal, your kids threw a fit or rolled their eyes. So, to avoid the energy drain and drama, you gave in to your kids’ pleas for “another snack”, “more dessert”, or their favorite fast-food drive thru pick-up.
Is there a way of out the family food fights without waiting for the school year to begin? I believe so. But don’t take it from me… Here are a few of the tips that have worked best for the parents of my elementary and teenage clients who PREVIOUSLY claimed they had a picky eater at their table:
- There are no “good” or “bad” foods. Experience tells us that as soon as we hear that a food is “bad for us” we want it and if it’s “good for us” we think it’s tasteless or boring. Plus, many kids begin to associate their value as being “good” or “bad” with how mom or dad says they’re eating. Instead, it is more helpful to refer to foods as “smart, in between, or empty” when it comes to nutritional value.
- Nobody has to eat anything they don’t want. I know, I know: this sounds crazy and does NOT jive with the “clean your plate” mentality that many of us had growing up. However, research has shown that it takes kids up to 10 exposures to a food (i.e., seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, spitting out, etc.) before they’ll eat and swallow the food comfortably. So, the mere presence of that food on a kids’ plate counts as an exposure. They don’t necessarily need to eat it or try it before getting up from the table. It may sound crazy, but it works!
- Role model loving healthy food. If you want your kids to eat broccoli, eat broccoli… without trying to convince them of how good it tastes or manipulate them into eating it, too. Your kids are watching you and, eventually, will want to try the foods you are eating to feel grown up. If you don’t believe me, you should ask the mom who was frustrated that her kids were only eating pop-tarts for breakfast. They saw her eating a healthier version of eggs benedict with asparagus every morning and BEGGED her for some of their own.
These are just a few of many tips I teach for changing the food environment NOT just modifying the foods we eat. Until we alter the language and “rules” we use in relation to food, we keep ourselves stuck in the food battles at the dinner table and feel trapped in the fights about food types. If you are interested in more material like this, join us for our next Feeding the Kids Workshop: Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants. Click here for more details and to register. There really is freedom from this age-old battle with food for you and your children!