So, perhaps the one question I get most often is “How do you get your kids to eat what you cook?” Well, I have some tips for you…
First, let me start with a disclaimer. I am not a professional, and I am also not “Mother of the Year”, but I do have three kids who put up dinner challenges often enough for me to develop a pretty deep bag of tricks.
I will start with my personal philosophy of food. I firmly believe in the theory that you do not fight food battles with children. According to Dr. Ross Greene, there are two behaviors over which your child has ultimate control: using the bathroom and eating. Fighting battles over these behaviors can end in devastating power struggles, and the parent usually loses. I have had success in letting go of complete food control in exchange for a series of healthy choices.
With that being said, I also am not willing to allow my children to grow up to be picky adults who only eat pizza and grilled cheese. (I once had a principal who was like this, and it was a bit bizarre to see a grown man special order a grilled cheese at a fancy professional dinner!)
Here are my top tips:
- ULTIMATE RULE # 1—Do not “YUCK” my “YUM”! – It is not polite or fair to look at someone else’s food and declare that it is gross, disgusting, yucky, or EWWWW!!!! (I have to thank my co-worker, Eve, for this quote.)
- I require that my children take a bite of something before they declare that they do not like it. Even if they have tried it before, they have to give it another shot. – I am reasonable. I finally let my oldest stop trying green beans after 10 years of bites.
- Be flexible with the presentation. Last night I made a grilled chicken salad with raspberries and mandarin oranges. I knew that my kids do not like meat on their salad, but they like meat and salad, so I placed them on the plate separately. The same can be done with spicy dishes or sauces. If I am making something with a spicy sauce, I pull some cooked meat out and allow my kids to pick their own dipping sauce. It requires no real extra effort on my part.
- As a reward for courageous eating, allow your child to pick the next day’s meal. If you allow them to be a part of dinner planning, they will perceive themselves as a valued member of the dinner experience.
- Allow them to cook with you. The benefits of this practice are endless from an educational perspective, but I have also found that if kids see what goes into the meal, and they like all the parts, they are more willing to eat the final product. It is a trust thing here. If it looks like mystery meat, they are not going to eat it, but if they saw the original ingredients, you have demystified the suspicious dish.
- Add colored ice cream sprinkles. I know this one is a bit desperate and outlandish, but it works for some kids. I have a very sweet, very healthy nephew, who is now 17, but as a 3-year-old, it took sprinkles to get him to eat mashed potatoes, or spaghetti. (This is a “big gun” and should only be used when you are at your wit’s end!)
- Finally, know when to quit. Some battles I am not willing to die for, so if my kids are really against what I am serving, I allow them to choose a healthy alternative that I do not have to cook. If they have made a reasonable attempt, I allow them to grab a fruit or vegetable and a yogurt or heat up leftovers from a previous night. Sometimes it is not worth the battle, or the stress.
So there are my top tricks. The bag is not empty, so please feel free to ask for more. I would also love to have you share a few of your own that work well. Also, please let us know if any of these helped you. It feels good to celebrate success!