By Sabrina Schlesinger
Battles at the table are exhausting! They can either turn into WWIII or turn me into a short-order cook making accommodations and allowances for everyone in my family. I have read tips and tricks on how to prepare food that is fun for the kids to eat, to letting them be a part of creating the meal to help get them to eat, and although I think those are all fun and great ideas, I am a working mom who doesn't always have the time or energy to do that at every meal. Years ago, we heard some of the best advice from James Dobson on this subject. He essentially said to pick your battles...and with food, hunger is on our side...so let hunger win.
I should also mention....I am a picky eater! I know the struggle and feel the pain of every kid....I can sympathize!
With four kids, we have had every kind of picky and stubborn eater over the years. We started to make changes when each of them were about four or five years of age.
Here are some tips to help get you to peaceful times around the table:
1. Let them know change is coming.
If you have been the parent that has never stuck to your guns about meals or have been the short-order cook, it is a little unfair to turn into The Gastapo overnight without any warning to your littles. So give them a heads up that you are making a change at meal time and WHY! It may go something like this...."I know I have let you eat whatever you have wanted, but one of my jobs as your mommy is to help you grow healthy and strong and to learn to eat and be grateful for what is placed in front of you, so starting tomorrow, whatever I serve you is what you are going to have to eat." This won't stop the battle that will most likely come, but at least you are preparing them for what's to come. Whatever age we are, a heads up is always appreciated.
2. Start small.
Be sure you don't overwhelm them out of the gate with an entire meal that you know they hate! Take baby steps. For example, if they don't like veggies, start with an easy one, and give them a small amount with other items on their plate you know they will love! This will still fill their tummies up but is also making them move outside of their comfort zone.
3. Give them a time limit.
Here is where it takes the pressure off of you! We gave our kids 30 minutes to finish their meal...all of their meal...before it was wrapped up nicely and waiting for them at the next snack/meal time. We pointed to the number on the clock and said, "You have until this time to finish your meal. If you don't, you will have to eat it for the next meal before having anything else to eat. There won't be any snacks in between either. So be sure to eat big kid bites and don't delay. The choice is up to you!" I usually remind them the food tastes WAAAYYYYY better the first time around, so they want to eat it now rather than for breakfast the next day. Occasionally I might chime in during that 30 minute time frame to suggest they might want to pick up the pace.
Now let me tell you...the first time doing this they are going to push back and see if you mean what you say. Most likely they WON'T eat the undesired food in that time frame. Parents....this is normal, expected and ok! Don't make a fight over it. When the 30 minutes is up, in a cheery tone say something like, "Ok, times up! Since you didn't finish, I'm going to wrap this up for you. This will be waiting for you when it's time for your next meal/snack."
4. Don't give in.
For any moms or dads out there who have a soft spot or tend to enable your kiddos....this step is the hard part. But if you do this, you will raise kids who can go to a dinner at a friends house and eat what has been prepared...or kids who may one day want to go on missions trips and will not starve while they are there! Most importantly you will have kids who will have a well-balanced diet and will thank you when they are older. In this step you must remember...HUNGER ALWAYS WINS! If they don't finish their dinner, they get it for breakfast. That's right....broccoli for breakfast! There will be tears, you've got to expect that, but repeat step 3 again, letting them know they have a time limit to eat what you have prepared and then let them choose! If your kid is anything like mine where, they will sit there and refuse to eat....testing you! I just kept reminding myself...hunger is on MY SIDE. The longest we went was about 24 hours before they finally gave in and ate the food we had prepared. And guess what....the next time they were faced with food on their plate they didn't care for...they chose to not eat it AGAIN! Lol. That's right, you heard me. But we stuck to our guns and when they didn't finish in the time frame, they decided at the next meal they would eat it because they knew...mom and dad aren't going to cave in. Each time gets easier and easier.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, so going for long periods of time without food may not be recommended for your child if they have any health issues. Be wise in this step, but also don't be a pushover. :)
5. Celebrate the wins.
In the beginning, for each bite your little one takes of the undesired food, celebrate it! Go ahead and have a dance party and give them lots of praise! Acknowledge that this is a big deal, because it certainly is to them. When they have FINALLY finished all of their food (however long that takes), give them lots of hugs, kisses, high fives and fist pumps. And then be sure the next meal is an easy one. Especially if they held out for 24 hours! Lol. Fill them up with some foods you know they love.
I had a child who ONLY ate plain noodles, french fries and milkshakes. When I finally stopped giving in to this and changed our method, it helped them so much! There was a period of 24 hours where they chose not to eat, but now....they eat practically everything! Sandwiches with mayo and mustard, sushi, veggies, etc. There are still a few things I know they hate (and I don't go out of my way to make them eat it because I'm not THAT mean), but they have become a brand new person when it comes to food! It is so rewarding and fun to see that in a few short month, you can help your child learn to become a well-rounded eater.
So hang in their moms! You've got this. A short term struggle will lead to a long term blessing for both you and your child.
Do you know someone who could use this advice? Pass it along. Have your own tips? Leave it in the comments below!
Love + Blessings,