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5 Rules to Raise Good Eaters

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.

But we have mostly avoided eating anxiety and unhealthy habits (not to mention table drama) by following these five rules to raise good eaters.

Mind you – we are very consistent and hyper-annoying to our kids about them. That’s the main thing…like all parenting…consistency. It’s tough being the constant nag, I know. But it pays off.

So… stick with me, dear reader: among a few others feed them this:

…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.