Regardless of what you do for a living, most parents would agree that feeding your children healthy food is one of the hardest jobs in the world! I am a busy mom so I know the struggle of working all day, coming home and making dinner, and then hearing nothing but complaints when you put it on the table. Well, after a few years of fighting about dinner every night, I quit! I quit trying to make everyone happy. I quit stressing out over what everyone ‘liked’ and focused on what was the healthiest way to feed my family of four. It was time for tough love, and in looking back, I am so happy I put my foot down.
Here are my Rules for Surviving Dinner:
1. Dinner is dinner! There is no back-up dinner in case the kids don’t like what I made. There are no snacks later because you didn’t eat your dinner. There are also – no exceptions. (Don’t worry, your kids won’t starve, I promise)
2. Be polite! My kids are not allowed to tell me my food is ‘gross’ or ‘bad’ or say things like ‘I hate it’. They can however say things like ‘broccoli is not my favorite’. It is simply not fair to mom and dad to have to hear that after working hard on dinner.
3. Make at least 1 ‘safe’ food! If I am going to serve my kids something that I know they don’t like, I will put something on their plates that they will eat. My daughter does not like tomatoes, but that doesn’t stop me from serving them. But, when I do, I also serve carrots or green beans or something else I know she will like. See, told you they won’t starve.
4. Don’t shop down to your kids! Don’t be tempted to buy breaded, bland, and beige foods for your kids because you know they will eat them. These foods are designed to be palatable and non-offensive, but not to be healthy. Kids will get used to ‘real’ foods if that is all you serve them. Giving children highly processed foods when they are young is just slowing down the development of a more refined palate. You want your kids to be healthy adults someday, right?
5. You have to try everything! No matter what the food is, everyone has to at least try it. Kids will never come around to a new food if they don’t have to taste it. It takes 7+ times of trying something new before you get used to it. How many bites totally depends on the food. (i.e. My son can’t just take one bite of chicken and say he doesn’t like it. But, I might be okay with only 1 bite of mushrooms.)
6. Limit snacks! Kids would live on snacks if you let them. I would recommend highly limiting the amount of food they get in between meals and only offering fruits and veggies as snacks. You are going to have a much harder time getting your child to eat a healthy dinner if they aren’t actually hungry.
7. Make kids help! Kids are absolutely capable of helping plan meals, shop, garden, and cook dinner. They are way less likely to fight you on dinner if they had a hand in preparing it. Also, the more comfortable they are in the kitchen, the more likely they are going to cook for themselves as a grown up. Healthy kid= healthy adult.
8. Teach them why! Kids are way more likely to cooperate if they know the ‘why’ behind the food. Teach them about nutrition. Teach them about what happens when we get too much sugar. Explain why we try different vegetables that are different colors and textures. I still remember last summer, my son asked for a second juice box and I said no. His response was, ‘Oh, yeah. Too much sugar, right mom?” I was so proud!
9. Be persistent and consistent! This only works if every parent/guardian agrees and works together. Solely mom or dad can’t always be the “bad guy.” These rules need to be enforced every day, every time. The children need to truly believe that this is it- no exceptions.
Now, it is hard. I’m not going to sugar-coat it, it will be so difficult! But it is worth every tear and tantrum along the way. And, with all that tough-talk said, that doesn’t mean we never eat treats. Sometimes the dinner I serve is pizza! Sometimes we grill hotdogs! It’s not always chicken and broccoli. Perfection is not attainable, nor does it need to be. The idea is to create a healthy relationship with food right from the beginning. In my house we try to keep everything in balance, and my kids are handling the transition just fine.
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