Welcome fellow parents. Let’s talk about kids and food and how to keep food from becoming a game you play with your child at every meal.
Birth To Age Two
You will never witness change like you do during your child’s first year of life. Unfortunately, many new parents are so anxious and insecure they miss a lot. Take time to delight in your infant. He is fine consuming only breast milk or formula during this year. It is not uncommon, however, to find babies around 6 to 9 months suddenly grabbing at table food as they sit on your lap. This is a sure sign they are ready to start eating. As much as you can, let them eat real food (cooked to the right consistency) with their own hands rather than feeding them mush. It’s not pretty, but it allows your baby to get used to different textures, temperatures and tastes in his own way. It also starts an early streak of independence. Be sure to restrict foods that are known allergens for the full first year. Let him have at the rest. Build in a quick bath time after meals. It’s worth the effort.
Between the time your baby turns one and until his second birthday, encourage him to eat from the family table. Do not make his meals entirely different from what everyone else is eating. For that matter, do not feed him on his own on a regular basis, include him in regular meals more often than not. Obviously, you will want to cut down whatever you’re eating into pieces right for an 18-month-old. Let him feed himself. Give him a child-sized fork and spoon to play with while he eats. If he knocks his food off of his tray, check it off as an accident. If you see a pattern of him knocking food off of his tray, stop refilling the tray. Try giving him attention for positive things he does. Look at the family dynamic. Is the little guy being included? Are people moving on to dessert while he’s still picking at slivers of chicken? Remember a child’s stomach is only as big as his fist – it does not take much to give a toddler a full meal. Get the whole family on board. Include your child now and family meals will feel natural and enjoyable. Exclude him or let him take charge by falling into his trap of dumping his tray and you are dooming yourself to ugly meals for years to come.
Ages Two To Five
If you have children in this age group, you are well-aware of the fact that they are an opinionated bunch. While it can be trying, it is normal and actually desirable. When it comes to food, you will reach a point with just about every kid where you are stumped. The infant who happily ate every vegetable you put in front of him is now a preschooler who shrieks at the thought of eating a single green bean. You might find you have a 4 year-old who suddenly insists he will only eat food that is white. You may never know what is driving the sudden changes, but you do not have to let them take over your meal planning, either. Most of the new-found tastes and demands will pass quickly if you don’t make too much of them. Try one or more of the following solutions:
- Make more than one vegetable at a meal. Give your child a choice between the two.
- As soon as possible, teach your child about taking a “polite-bite.” Aside from feeding your child, one of your goals is to raise a child with nice table manners. The sooner you start practicing, the better. Explain that a polite-bite is one small bite to taste something in order to be polite to the cook and see if they actually like a food. Insist that your child learn to take this bite without making a big fuss of it. Show him how to take a quick drink after tasting something he truly does not like. Teach him two phrases: “No, thank you,” and “I don’t care for that.”
- For the child who insists on eating white-only food, you do not have to put the entire family on a chicken and mayonnaise diet. Continue to cook what you would normally cook including at least one sort of white food – even if it’s only a slice of bread! Some kids will compromise their rule if they can dip their non-white food into white sauce, like ranch dressing. It’s worth a shot.
- If you know you are going to be eating out, plan ahead. Do not allow your child to drag his demands to others’ homes or into restaurants. Instead, bring a small container with some shredded chicken, rice, cauliflower and maybe some saltines. If your child balks, explain to him that just because he will only eat white food, he cannot expect everyone else to change what they like to eat. Be matter-of-fact when you are dealing with this issue. Few kids last long on this kind of diet and none has starved.
- Finally, get your child involved in meal preparation. Children that help create a meal are far more likely to eat that meal.
Ages 6 To 11
Between the ages of six and eleven, you should be over the biggest of the food battles. Sure, your child will have things he does not like, and that’s fine; you probably have things you do not like either. However, he should be working on being polite while at the table. You are still the grown up. These are not the ages to start catering to your child’s food whims. Sure, it might seem easier to fix him a frozen pizza after you’ve been working all day, but it is worth resisting the temptation. If you start feeding your child individual meals, you are giving them far too much power not only over meals, but also over your budget and ability to maintain control over your household. Fix at least one thing you are sure your child likes for dinner. If you’re serving something new, insist on a polite-bite and keep your fingers crossed. Your child will not starve if he eats spaghetti squash and an apple for dinner one night.
Get your elementary school aged children to help you come up with 10-15 meals everyone in the family can enjoy together. Get them actively involved in cooking. A well-supervised six year-old is perfectly capable of making a grilled cheese sandwich or scrambling eggs. Your children are now at the perfect age to teach them how to clean up after themselves and be educated on the general kitchen do’s and don’t’s. By the time your child starts the eighth grade, he should be able to make a simple dinner for the entire family. (And, some day, when he’s midway through college, he will call and thank you for teaching him to cook as he watches his roommate eat his 1000th packet of ramen noodles.)
It is fully within your power to keep food from becoming a game you play with your child at every meal. It is up to you what food is brought into the house and how it is served. Your child cannot fill up on junk food or soda if you don’t buy it. Keep your expectations reasonable and firm. Work on manners and how to politely refuse food. Don’t stop encouraging your child to try new foods. It can take years, but if you follow these steps, you will eventually have young adult children who not only eat a wide range of healthy food, they will also know how to prepare it!