Stop the Food Fight with your kids
Written by: Elena Marre
Like most parents, I struggled with picky eaters. I believe that we are what we eat, and I want my kids to be healthy. My quest to raise good eaters and help other parents do the same is what led me to found The Kids’ Table almost six years ago.
In the 13+ years of feeding my own children, I tried most of the tricks in the book to get my pickier son to eat. I coaxed, cajoled, bribed and threatened. Sometimes I would get the short-term result I wanted, but usually at a big emotional cost. And overall, things were not moving in the right direction. Despite my efforts, my picky eater was just getting pickier. I realized that my efforts were misdirected. I didn’t understand the true nature of my picky eater problem. You have to get to the root of a problem before you can begin to solve it.
So, what is the root of the picky eating problem? I’ll give you a hint - it’s not food. It’s power.
When this dawned on me, it explained so much. Like why my son would eat salad out of my bowl at 10 months, but at age 5 wouldn’t touch a leafy green if it were the last edible thing on earth. Or, why that same child would love, say, blueberries one day, and then turn up his nose at them when I came home with a 5lb box. Or why kids will eat better at school or at a friend’s house than at home with their parents. Or why my son will refuse to even taste many “normal” foods, but will eat BUGS (yes that’s right - on purpose, on multiple occasions, dead or alive).
Somewhere around the age of two, those little munchkins suddenly realize they can push our buttons. We can make them do a lot of things – go to bed, strap into a car seat, get a hair cut, take a bath. But we can’t make them eat. (Trust me, like many of you, I’ve tried!) And if they know we want them to eat something, they will resist on principle alone. So we find ourselves in a power struggle, and while we may be bigger, they somehow get the upper hand.
The solution? Opt out of the battle and stop fighting about food.
Stopping the fight is easier said than done. Your child’s eating habits may continue to drive you bananas at times, and that’s okay. Acknowledge those feelings, but don’t let them show! Here are a few things to keep in mind through the transition:
- You’re still in charge. Stopping the fight does not mean that your child gets to eat whatever and whenever. You’re still setting and enforcing mealtime rules as you see fit, such as sitting still at the table, not throwing food or how often “dessert” is available. Just make sure you’re not making it a rule to eat.
- Positive reactions are as harmful as negative ones. It’s hard not to jump up and down when your child willingly and happily eats something previously unthinkable. Words or other signs of praise should be avoided, because they convey to your child that you are pleased with their behavior, that your child did what you wanted. That’s power struggle territory. While it is best to say nothing at all, if you feel the need to acknowledge the event, ask your child how they feel about it. Ask them what the food tasted like to them, or what they liked about it, or didn’t like about it.
- Change takes time. The longer the food battle has been going, the longer it will take to resolve. At first you might get a lot of resistance. But as you and your child adapt to the new way, you’ll start to see improvements. Rest assured that your child will not starve! Of course, if you have any specific nutrient deficiency concerns or your child is not gaining weight, you should talk to your doctor. But by and large, kids will eat when they’re hungry.
- Old habits die hard. You may slip back into your fighting stance now and then (I did). Remember to be patient with yourself as well as with your child.
After all, eating is a pretty wonderful thing. It is nourishment for our families in both body and spirit.