I follow 5 rules to raise good eaters…or at least pretty good eaters. Oh, we have plenty of negotiating at our dinner tables, don’t be misled. The frequent negotiations, occasional whining, rare tears. But still – it’s tolerable.
…and follow these 5 rules to raise a good eater (with hopefully little drama).
*Absolutely no guarantees, mind you!
1. This is dinner. Eat it or not.
Your call. But: no drama, li’l llama. If you don’t want it, you can leave the table. But you’re not sitting here and complaining and pushing food around and whining and negotiating how many more minuscule bites you have to eat. Either eat your dinner or not. (We don’t do clean plate, we require 80%, give or take.) But if you leave the table, no dessert.
2. At least 3 bites.
A new food that’s scary? You don’t have to eat it all. But if you want dessert, you must have three bites – one to feel, one to taste, one to decide. No negotiations.
3. No snacking after 4:30 pm.
If they’ve worn you down and you’re already sipping a cocktail and making dinner, and you KNOW they really are starving, then: fine – let them snack on broccoli or cucumbers or carrots. If they’re REALLY hungry (as opposed to bored) they’ll eat. And they may always gobble all the veggies they want. But no snacking after 4:30.
4. First the “anytime” foods, then “sometime” foods
Earn the good stuff. This is our parenting mantra. Like Michelle Obama said, “There are sometimes foods and there are anytime foods. But you gotta earn the sometimes foods by first eating the anytime foods.”
First apple, then more crackers; first dinner, then dessert; first twenty minutes of quiet time, then ten minutes of screen time; first daddy’s beer then I’ll chase you around the house.
But especially for food: anytime foods then sometimes foods.
5. Half the plate should be vegetables.
May the culinary gods bless my kids’ doctor for sharing this rule. I get to throw her under the bus as I shrug my shoulders and say to my kids, “Sorry. Not my rule. It was the doctor’s. Half the plate has to be vegetables.” Hell, we almost NEVER make that. But it’s a good thing to aim for. We all know we’d be better off gobbling half a plate of vegetables.
(Oh, here’s an extra tip…but I avoided having an even-numbered list…”5 rules to raise good eaters” sounds better than “6 rules…”, doesn’t it?
Have your kids help in the kitchen.
Ask them/cajole them/require them to give a hand in food prep. It’ll make them more invested in the experience of eating. Let them experiment with using knives. Heck, they gotta learn sometime. Order one of these for young kids, but even so, let them know/understand/respect sharp knives, too.
I’m that guy who’s obsessed with how to get my kids to eat everything. Often, they do. Other parents hate me for it. Mwahahahaha.
At home, we have plenty of dinner drama over the introduction of new foods. Plenty.
But we don’t negotiate. “Kids, here’s dinner. Take it or leave it.”
There are zero substitutions and we aren’t short-order line cooks.
When I was expecting my first kid, among the many things I stressed over was dinnertime and eating. A dear friend counseled, “I don’t do the drama. If they don’t want to eat, they’re fine skipping a meal. No middle-class child in the Western world is going to starve to death after missing a meal (or even dinner for five nights in a row.) They’ll be fine.
Moreover, as long as you don’t let them snack too much (more on that later), their hunger leads them to eat. It’s as simple as that.
“You’re not hungry? No problem. You can go play in your room.” No drama. End of discussion. (But you ain’t gettin’ anything else.)
And if they come back saying they’re hungry, well…their dinner is waiting for them, still.
Our dinner rules are focused on how to get my kids to eat everything and can be summarized as such:
Eat your meal, get dessert. (It doesn’t have to be a “clean plate” mentality. Eat 85% of every item on your plate, I’m fine with that.)
Still hungry? Remember that 15% of dinner? Have that. When that’s gone? Fruit.
Still hungry? If I’m in a good mood, you’ll get another little sweet treat. And after that? Carrots.Iff there’s something new on the plate, you must take at least three bites – one to taste, one to feel, one to decide. If you do that, you can still have dessert.
If you refuse to try a new food, or if you refuse to eat something, that’s no big deal. You won’t have dessert. But you’re welcome to sit at the table and keep talking with us.
If you’re just killing time, distracting the rest of us, or throwing a fit, please leave the table and go play in your room.
No drama, no raised voices, no negotiation. There are rules. They know them.
We don’t waver on these rules (too often). And they work (when we’re consistent.)
On there subject of the food ingested, we aren’t insane about electrolytes or organic everything. I mean, yes – we’d prefer everything to be locally-sourced and organic. I wish everything we ate were locally-sourced, organic, and sustainably delivered to my doorstep. We can’t afford that.
However, we know Michael Pollan’s philosophy “Eat Food, Not too Much, Mostly Vegetables” is at least the goal. And as he suggests, we do most of our shopping “around the perimeter of the grocery store, instead of in the processed aisles.”
And because I love my kids more than I love oxygen (and I’m obsessed with how to get my kids to eat everything), I commit to feeding them healthily and diversely. An open mind and pallet are cultivated through an open stomach so they’re hungry for adventure, experience, and flexibility.
(* – meaning they haven’t been snacking all damn day.)
Not every food needs to be LOVED. A frequent refrain in my house is, “Was it not your favorite? That’s okay. Was it the worst thing you’ve ever eaten?”
Plus – man cannot live on chocolate cake alone. There’s even a diminishing rate of return on chocolate cake. (It’s an economic law!) Even I can only eat a piece and then the rest of the cake just isn’t worth it. (Same goes for Oreos, which aren’t even my favorite…but I can house a box of those in twenty minutes.) But you gotta eat the veggies before you gorge on the cake or Oreos.
Also, at the risk of sounding like a complete hypocrite, McDonald’s fries are the best. (Everything in moderation.)
But we aren’t those sanctimonious parents who preach one hundred percent adherence to perfect eating. I mean – come on. Extremism doesn’t do anyone any favors, does it? I mean – who wants to sit next to these self-righteous hypocrites on the playground:
Have a cigarette, amiright?
Anyway, how have I indulged my obsession with how to get my kids to eat everything? Through the education of taste.
With a diverse pallet from the beginning stages of eating purees and solids starting at six months. We introduced herbs, spices, all manner of vegetables, and eggs.
There are, of course, foods we avoided for the first year.
Honey – the common knowledge from doctors and the intrawebs is we don’t fedd infants honey because it could contain botulism. The chances are very low, however. I’m not so sure we need to freak out about this. Read on.
Nuts – allergies are a real concern, of course, but the science is still out on whether or not nut allergies, and other, can develop in infancy. Though I’m no paranoiac, I avoided nuts (meaning peanut butter) until my kiddo could safely chew them, himself.
Fish and meats? Eh. I fed them all. I mean – my kid didn’t have a steak til he was able to really chew well. But mashed chicken (see below) and fish were totally on the table.
But it was all about the introduction of new foods as regularly as possible. Like…weekly.
I wish I’d known about the French Pediatric Society, in which the French government suggestions two new vegetables per week (as opposed to the American pediatric website that says, “serve a couple green veeteables and some yellow vegetables.” Could we be any lazier? (I swear I read that somewhere…and I’m still looking for the link…#fakenews.)
Anyway. It’s all about exposure, especially before the age of two, which is when it’s reported most children begin their food neophobia.
(Not nihilism – that’s Neitsche…which kids develop when they piss away 75k/year in college and return home blaming us for all their problems and proclaiming “God is Dead.”)
No: food neophobia, in which 3 out of 4 kids develop their fear of new foods.
So in the meantime – pump them full of new foods before they’re aware, and they’ll develop a taste and expectation of differences.
And the following recipes helped me introduce varied and complexity and made them eaters (especially salad eaters)…
Again – super easy. Let’s just poach a chicken and a sweet potato. Need some guidance, there? Watch/read on…
Recipe 3 – Kale salad with toasted hazelnuts
I’d have this salad and my kid wanted to eat all the toasted hazelnuts. And I was a selfish SOB and didn’t want to share my hazelnuts. I felt like the greatest gastronomic sacrifice I needed to make as a father was to let my kid have the last bite of a donut. And I made that sacrifice happily. But seriously, dude – don’t eat all my nuts!
So in order for my kid to “earn” the hazelnuts, they had to have a bit of greens between each nut.
Pretty soon, my kids were eating the entire salad on their own.
My kids never met a cracker they didn’t like. I would easily figure out how to get my kids to eat everything if it just came on a cracker. I can’t blame them. I’ve eaten half a box in the last fifteen minutes of typing. But I figure a cracker is a vessel to the mouth for some kind of dip.
And dips bring flavor, texture, and gastronomic experience ot my kids.
So every other cracker they eat has to have a dip.
And every few crackers require a carrot stick, cucumber spear or broccoli flower head. Do I count? Oh, yes. You know I do.
These three dips are easy and delicious and expose my kids to flavors we discuss (video below for a charming demo of all the dips)…
Buy one of those over-priced jars of sun dried tomatoes. I know – it’s insane how expensive they are, isn’t it? But listen – you’re going to get your use out of it with this recipe, not to mention they keep in the jar for *awhile* and you’ll remake this dip weekly…and never end up throwing out food.
And when you don’t toss food – you undermine the MAN. Because you just KNOW the MAN high-fives his minions of capitalist earth-haters every time we toss food.
And how easy is this? Take a 1/3 jar of drained sun dried tomatoes (vary the amount according to your taste), blend it with a log of goat cheese.