Like many other moms out there, I struggle with the dreaded question from my kids “What’s for dinner?” or “What can I have for a snack?” I try on most occasions to offer healthy options for our meals, but there is still always some push back. When I offer cheese and an apple as a healthy snack, my nine-year-old only wants a bowl of cereal or a handful of pretzels, neither of which are super
nutritious or will fill her up until dinner is on the table. When I make a delicious stir-fry with vegetables, tofu, and rice, they only eat the rice and maybe one piece of vegetable that you would think tasted like medicine when they finally swallowed it down. Part of our problem is that our family does have some food issues. I have recently discovered I am gluten intolerant and my oldest daughter is allergic to tree nuts and shellfish. Which does make things difficult as a lot of gluten substitutes are made with various tree nuts. For our grains we tend to eat a lot of rice, quinoa (although the girls don’t really care for it), rice noodle pasta, polenta, and corn products. Both my girls do love fruit, but vegetables and protein present a huge challenge. Of course, I keep trying to push the good stuff on my kids (and my husband too, for that matter) and I have found that I need to be a little more creative. I do have a couple tricks that work every so often:
Have the kids help with the cooking. By getting the girls involved in making the dinner, they understand that there is work that goes into getting dinner on the table. This way, they may not be as disrespectful when they don’t want to eat the food. I also like to remind them, they made this dinner so they can eat it too. When they put their labor of love into it, they are more interested in trying and encouraging each other to eat it too.
Let the kids plan a few favorite meals. Along with having the kids help make the meals, it is also helpful to have the kids help plan out your weekly meals ahead of time (which is a huge time saver). Discussing with the kids in advance what meals they WOULD like to eat during the week insures they know what to expect as the weeks goes on. That way when Taco Tuesday comes up there are no surprises from the kids, they helped with the planning so they know what’s coming next. Kids love consistency and advance notice, so keeping the same things on the menu helps too.
No Thank You Bites. This is something that a friend told me about and I had recently heard on National Public Radio as well. Basically, the kids need to take at least one “No Thank You Bite,” and then they can move on to the food they actually like. This is a good policy to have, especially when we are out to dinner or at friends or families homes for dinner, I want them to be courteous to those that made the meal and remind them that it is polite to at least try the meal. A lot of times, once they try one bite, they may indeed find they enjoy the food and then eat the whole thing!
Make sure there is always something on the table they do like. Obviously, I don’t want my kids to go hungry, so I always provide something on the table that I know the kids will eat. That way they are still eating the dinner I made and a lot of times if I do make a stir-fry, I might deconstruct it for the girls so that its not too spicy for them or put a little bit of the sauce on the side so they can try it on their own terms. I have given up being a short-order cook, I will not make four different meals for our family. We also like the rule, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit”.
Give them some guidelines. It gets old always telling the kids what they should eat and being a preacher of healthy bites before sweet bites. That’s why I printed out a handy little chart based on the new eating guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign. The new guideline is a visual reminder called My Plate. My Plate is an updated guideline from the Food Pyramid and shows how much and which kinds of foods should be on your plate. Fruits and veggies should be almost half of every meal, and grains and proteins can fill in the rest of the plate. The chart I printed for my girls breaks down each meal, to give them a guide of what type of foods they should eat for breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner. This way it is not just me trying to get them to eat healthy foods, but the First Lady. Maybe if they don’t listen to me, they will listen to her!
Keep Trying. My last suggestion, when the kids just don’t want to cooperate with dinner, is to just keep trying. Eventually, they will figure out that there are a lot of wonderful, tasty, healthy foods that will make their bodies feel great. As long as I keep offering it to them, one day they will eat it. And in the meantime, if we have plain pasta every once in awhile, it won’t hurt anyone.