It’s the end of a long day. The husband worked a 12-hour shift. The kids and I had a playdate and a full homeschool day. Together we washed, dried, folded, and put away 4 loads of laundry. And now it’s dinner time. Together time. So we sit down to a delicious meal of liver and onions with a side of sautéed squash.
Yes, you read that right. My seven and four year old daughters will eat squash, and onions, and liver. How did this happen?
Getting the kids to eat well and eat unusual foods didn’t happen overnight, and it was definitely a trial and error endeavor. We’ve had a lot of misses along the way. We STILL have a lot of misses. Overall though, I believe my children have a healthy relationship with food. We’ve come across a lot of good advice and ideas along the way. Here is what has worked for us.
1. Start from the beginning.
With our oldest, we followed the norm and gave our daughter rice cereal and then moved to pureed fruits and vegetables. By the time I was pregnant with my second, I’d read about Baby Led Weaning. This is not weaning from breast or bottle; weaning here refers to when baby starts eating food other than breastmilk or formula. There are books and blogs dedicated to this, so I won’t spend much time explaining, other than certain milestones must be reached before baby can have solid food, generally around six months or older. From the time baby starts eating, she gets tiny bits of whatever the rest of the family is eating. I believe that my younger daughter has a better relationship with food than my older, because she ate it all from the start.
We all have at least one food that we just don’t like. That’s okay. My husband doesn’t like eggs and actually can’t stand the smell of them. We didn’t want to give our children a reason to not try eggs, so we decided not to make a big deal out of Daddy not liking them. We don’t mention it. In fact, we own chickens because of the eggs they provide. Sometimes he sucks it up and cooks eggs and bacon for the family for breakfast. He’ll just eat the bacon.
3. Cook one meal and don’t provide an alternative.
My oldest daughter won’t eat rice. I won’t make her eat it, but I won’t cook separately for her either. As a Louisiana cook, I make a fair amount of jambalaya and rice and gravy. My girl has learned to pick around the rice. There are no chicken nuggets or ham sandwiches on standby. This mama makes one meal. However, I will make sure there is a side dish she loves on nights when rice is a prominent ingredient in our main dish. If one of the kids is not eating, her plate stays on the dinner table until bedtime. Usually she’ll go back and eat a bite or two, even if it was “nasty” just an hour before.
4. Realize that children’s appetites can change.
Age three is both fun and terrifying. My pediatrician told me one thing that put my mind completely at ease about this age: their appetites can drastically decrease at this age, and it’s normal. If everything else is okay, normal growth, normal sleep patterns, and normal energy (or above normal energy, I should say), chances are a decreased appetite is nothing to lose sleep over. In other words, don’t force feed your child. Don’t turn meals into a battle. Barring unusual circumstances, he’ll eat if he’s hungry.
5. Allow kids to help!
I know, this can be stressful. And messy. My girls will each pull a chair up to the counter, completely blocking my access to it, so they can help cook. Take a deep breath and budget more time for dinner prep. Encourage their help. Let the little one stir something. Be brave and let the older one handle a real knife. When children are invested in their meal with their own time and energy, they’ll be more likely to eat it.
Honestly, my kids are not perfect eaters. I mean, my oldest won’t eat rice (is she really even from Louisiana?!). If I’m not careful, my youngest daughter will fill herself up on milk instead of eating her meal. Meal times are not idyllic and peaceful one hundred percent of the time. For the most part though, my children are willing to try new foods and have a fairly balanced diet. That’s really all I expect or ask.