Food should be positive, fun, delicious as well as healthy but we live in a time where everyone is overly health conscious and kids pick up on the stress of that. I try to avoid the talks about “good and bad food” and just present it as food. “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” I’m not a force feeder and I feel that if you keep offering food in a positive way without any negative food comments at the dinner table then children are more likely to eat it. Little minds are easily influenced and I’ve seen kids go from absolutely loving something like broccoli and then refusing it after they heard an adult or peer say, “Oh yuck! I don’t like that!”. So, my rules at the dinner table are simple…
- Keep negative comments about food to yourself
- Take one bite of everything at least, please
- You are welcome to seconds after all portions are consumed
Of course there are the other general rules of manners at the dinner table but that is a topic for another day! Oh and these rules apply to the adults at the table as well!
A meal is a time to connect, bond and enjoy each others company. It should be a positive and thankful time for everyone involved. We have such busy lives that these little moments in time are valuable and should be appreciated.
I offer a lot of variety and small portions so it expands the palette gradually. A typical meal will have one part meat, two parts veggies, one part fruit and usually rice. If I am offering something new to a child that I am sure they will frown upon I will only give enough for just one bite. It’s less intimidating for a child to eat a single bite of something new than stare at a huge mountain of it. If I am offering something I know a child does not like then I will give them two bite portions. Why? Because if a child is known to dislike something we generally always encourage to at least have one bite so they expect that. If they eat the second bite we can positively enforce it with “Wow! Great job! You ate it ALL!” Sure, the portions were only two bites but that fills a child with pride to know they really did eat all of something they dislike. Eating all of something is much more of an accomplishment than just eating two bites. If they choose not to eat it all then I just ignore it and say something positive about what they did eat.
However, sometimes kids just aren’t into food that much or become bored easily. Thats why I try to make meals simple and fun with ideas from the Japanese bento. Bentos are traditionally a Japanese lunch that is taken on the go and served in a box. I have a lot of fond memories of bentos from my childhood. I loved all the cute containers, contrasting colors and neat shapes of common food. It always made lunch more enjoyable! I try to use a few ideas with every meal to make our meals a little more visually appealing. Even if its something as simple as using cookie cutters to cut meats into heart shapes, or cutting hot dogs into the shape of octopuses. Children respond positively to a plate full of fun and cute things.
Every child is different and because of such its hard for us to figure out what grabs their attention. Its a constantly changing and evolving process but I find that if you get down to their level and see through a child’s eyes it all becomes a little clearer. Sometimes we can’t change their stubborn nature or apprehension on trying new foods. But, we can change how we present the foods in a positive and fun way so hopefully it sticks.