It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Menu … Tuesday

Ah, what a lovely weekend! Glorious sun, warm to hot temperatures, the only rain happening Monday evening. Perfect.

And now here I am back, with this week’s lunches:

Tuesday: Ratatouille with ground walnuts

Wednesday: Lentil-beet salad

Thursday: Butter chicken, rice

Friday Southwestern bean salad

Some of you have wondered how I get the children to eat these things. Here’s the thing: I don’t. I don’t “get” the children to eat. I provide good, healthy, nourishing food. They can eat it, they can sit there and stare it down keep the rest of us company, or they can leave. This is not a punitive thing, unless they pitch a fit, in which case they go sit on the Quiet Stair until they stop. While the rest of us continue our meal.

It’s not punitive because, unless the child’s being truly obnoxious about it (or maybe if I’m particularly hormonal) it doesn’t annoy me. (Let me clarify here: it will annoy me if I’m particularly hormonal; it is exceptionally rare that I get punitive about it … because I don’t have to. Worse, because it’s counter-productive.)

So what do I do?

I’ve said this before, but really, there’s nothing much more to explain. I let them choose to go hungry. That’s it, that’s all. That is how I “get” kids to eat. I let it be their choice. When I let them make that choice, instead of coaxing, coercing, and (worst of all!) offering alternates, they learn that eating is better than not-eating. Eventually, they even learn that food of all sorts is good!


May 22, 2012 - Posted by | food | , ,


  1. “Just let them go hungry” – no one understands this. Sooner or later, a hungry child will eat.

    I do have one caveat; they must try one bite before they are allowed to leave the table (in case they are just getting their hackles up because the food has green stuff in it, for example). And if a child tries something repeatedly and always dislikes it, fair enough. I don’t like turnip. My son doesn’t like peas. (Peas! I know! He’ll eat literally every other thing you put in front of him but he’s hated peas since he was a baby.) It happens.

    I do the “one bite” thing, too, and it happens often enough that after one bite they decide it isn’t poison after all. Surprise! I let them have dislikes after they’ve proven themselves willing to try everything without a fuss. As you say, there are always things you don’t like. I loathe lima beans. Just loathe them. Bleah. (My kids all love them. Obviously, it’s not a heritable trait…) So Emily didn’t have to eat onions or blueberries (BLUEBERRIES! I KNOW!) and Rory doesn’t have to eat mushrooms. Honest dislikes are acceptable; persnickety faddishness or power struggles are not.

    As it happens, I’m not a huge fan of peas, either, but it’s not the taste, it’s the texture. I loooove peas fresh off the vine. Farmer’s market peas, eaten the same day? Yum!Eaten raw is the best. But once they’re a few days old, and frozen peas? They’ve got this icky pasty texture I really don’t enjoy. I’ll eat them if I’m served them, but they’re not a fave.

    Comment by Hannah | May 22, 2012 | Reply

  2. I wish this had worked for my kid. He ate reasonably well as a toddler, but not as a preschooler. I found out at the end of the year that he was eating bread and milk for lunch (and generally only that) all school year. He went to summer camp several years running, where everyone assured me that he would cave and eat their meals by mid-week. According to him and others, mostly he ate breakfast and a few snacks. Sigh. At 16 now, I’ve decided that *i* am seemingly not going to change his eating habits. My other kid, in contrast, eats anything and everything, despite having failure to thrive as a 1-2 yo, where we couldn’t let him not eat, and did cater to him. Go figure!

    A few comments: — the preschool was letting him eat nothing but bread and milk? In that situation, I’d have refused to give him bread or milk until other things had been at least attempted. If that meant he got nothing, so be it.

    — Breakfast doesn’t have to be cereal and milk, or toast and jam. It can be soup. It can be stir-fry. It can be ratatouille. Many children have a meal where they ingest the bulk of their calories. If it’s breakfast, make dinner for breakfast.

    — For a hardcore kid like this, if he refuses a meal, knowing he’s going to get a snack later to keep hunger at bay, I’ll either skip the snack, or give him the meal he refused at snack time. (This was necessary for one of my kids, briefly. Forget which one, now.)

    — You’re right. At 16, it’s not within your control at all. You just have to hope that the lessons you taught him while he was younger, and your own modelling, will eventually take over. They often do, when the child is in their twenties and living on their own.

    Unless you’re dealing with a medical condition, as your other child did, these strategies do work. It sounds as if a large part of the problem for you, with your son, is that the other parties involved were not on the same page, and were allowing him to maintain his iffy patterns.

    Comment by Katherine | May 22, 2012 | Reply

  3. I have been cutting out or making my morning snack really small. I had kids that were starting to get picky at the lunch table. Cut out the AM snack (or make it so small as to whet their appetite)? They are hungry for lunch. I wish people would get over the thought that feeling hungry = bad. It’s good to feel hungry and to know what true hunger actually feels like.

    I often say that to the children: “It’s a snack, not a meal.” For small children with small tummies, snacks are important. For larger children, they’re not. As you say, it’s good to feel hunger, and really, it’s not such a stretch to think that we can go 4 hours between pit stops.

    At meals, I’ll let children decide how much to eat, but, until they’re reliable about eating, they always have to eat their vegetables first, and get the protein and starch next. They may have seconds (and thirds) but always in the same order. If they don’t want more veggies, they’re not that hungry.

    I also use the divide-the-plate rule: half their plate is veggies, a quarter protein, a quarter starch. So yes, twice as much vegetables as anything else. Two carrot sticks don’t count as a vegetable serving, unless they’re only eating one bite of meat and having one spoonful of rice as the rest of their meal. (Which may indeed be all a child eats for lunch one day. That’s fine.)

    Comment by Kate | May 22, 2012 | Reply

  4. My cousin was rather similar to Katherine’s description of her son – he was just incredibly stubborn. His parents would make it punitive, but probably because they were so frustrated by his stubbornness (and rudeness, at times). When he went away to university he expanded his diet significantly because he was suddenly free to choose what he wanted to eat and didn’t have to assert his independence over food by refusing to eat anything except beans on toast. Hopefully this is a bit of reassurance to you, Katherine – if he’s still reasonably healthy he will probably sort himself out over time.

    When I was in Paris I deployed the “try as many bites as you are years old” technique. This worked quite well, especially since my fussy eater was six (and her four year old sister was showing her up!), but since bread was permanently available to fill up on, I suspect it didn’t make a permanent difference.

    I’ve used that rule, too. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb, and kids tend to respond well to it. Children can eat inordinate amounts of food … but at the same time, it can surprise people how little they really need to get by, so long as what they’re eating is whole, healthy food. They are growing, yes, but they’re also small!

    Comment by May | May 22, 2012 | Reply

  5. Apologies – didn’t clarify that I was in Paris as an au pair. Not implying that French children are particularly fussy! (In fact I’ve heard the opposite, the schools serve some amazing stuff.)

    Comment by May | May 22, 2012 | Reply

  6. Yes, I’m sure a large issue was that I was unaware of what was happening at preschool. He was eating morning and afternoon snacks, at preschool, that were keeping him from being SO hungry. So he could get by with little lunch. He didn’t tell me, nor did his teachers. I only discovered this at the end of the year, when I had lunch with him one day. This was all going on at the same time as my younger sons failure to thrive, with all the attendent dr visits and worry.

    They are both healthy now. And I’m really hoping that the picky one will branch out some when he goes off to college. In the meantime, he does eat mostly healthy, just not traditionally. All his veggies are eaten raw, for example.

    Comment by Katherine | May 23, 2012 | Reply

  7. I do things fairly similarly at my family child care. I always tell them they can eat it or not. I don’t care either way, but they have to eat (or at least TRY) everything before they get more of anything. I give them VERY small portions to start with. I’m a new reader BTW and I’m excited to read more. Trying to revamp my website/blog as well.

    Question for you….my son, age 6.5, has constant meltdowns over food. If he likes what we are having it’s the “best day ever!” If not, it’s the worst day ever and he’s usually on the floor screaming at us. No kidding. I’ve tried not to make it a battle and we’ve tried several other things. Most recently he gets to choose Friday afternoon snack if he doesn’t melt down during the week. But it doesn’t really work. It’s not just food. He’s impulsive and passionate. Just wondering your take on it…

    Comment by Kristy DeGraaf | May 24, 2012 | Reply

    • Oh and I was thinking it would be awesome if you had a Facebook page to follow too!

      Comment by Kristy DeGraaf | May 24, 2012 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: