I’ve yet to meet a mom who is not monitoring her kid’s eating habits. Some might even be obsessed over it, others just make sure their kids eat enough or don’t overeat. Food can be filled with cultural, health or moral values and seems an important subject in most families I know.
Every single one of the moms I know, seems to have her personal truth about food, or is at least searching for it. I know quite a few moms who vouch for strict vegetarianism, sugar free, all organic, low-carb, macrobiotic, low-fat or a mix of those. Others cook without lactose, gluten, sugar, eggs, nuts, soy and other allergy or intolerance boosters, by necessity or by conviction. But there’s also quite a number who just like to stick to their grandmothers’ favourite mashed potatoes with pork chops and piccalilli, because that’s what they were raised with.
Myself, I mix quite a bit of the above. My life is all about compromises. As a student, I used to be vegetarian, but now we eat vegetarian for only about 3 days a week. I also restrict the amount of lactose, because of my daughter’s (mild) intolerance. I make sure they eat at least one piece of fruit per day, but most days it’s two or three. And because we are Belgian, we have our two-weekly take out of ‘French’ fries, which originally came from Belgium. Or maybe even from Flanders.
I would not call myself obsessed, but I do keep a detailed mental track of what my kids eat in a day, and try to compensate by the 80/20 rule I adopted from a fellow World Mom: if they eat healthy for 80% of the time, that will make up for the 20% they eat junk.
When a mom has found her personal truth about food, obviously she wishes for her kids to eat by it; which they aren’t likely to do without a struggle. Not after they’ve tasted the Belgian fries, they won’t.
When my oldest was younger, I used to think I had it all together though. He ate whatever vegetable I gave him and his favourite dish was Brussels’ sprouts. I even recall quite some occasions on which I, the former vegetarian, bribed him into eating his meat by promising him an extra stem of broccoli. After a while, even the meat didn’t pose a problem anymore. He would eat whatever I served him.
Those good old days are over now.
It all started when our daughter arrived, age 2.5. She came from Ethiopia and was not used to our diet, not mentally, but also not physically. The first time I served her something green, she just threw it on the floor. Not out of a whim, but because she was clearly convinced it was not edible. She even tried to take it out of my mouth. Having been fed mashed dishes all her life, she was also not used to chewing. She did like bread and she did her best chewing it, but we had to take her to a physiotherapist to sooth her jaw pains. So we customized our cooking to her and introduced new stuff every once in a while. The one dish that never posed a problem was, indeed, our Belgian fries.
Meanwhile, our son, then 5, seemed to finally grasp that there was such a thing as rejecting food. I don’t know whether it was his sister’s example, the TV shows he started watching, his classmates or just normal evolution, but he started getting more selective each month. He also ate with his hands more often, just like his sister was used to. I went from having one kid with excellent eating habits to two picky, messy eaters.
After two years of convincing myself it was just a phase, this year I started implementing some strategies to get them to eat more balanced. Ultimately, what they were eating wasn’t all that bad but I was getting tired of the drama and the struggle to get them to eat what I believed was good for them. And most of all, I wanted them to develop the discipline to choose healthy by themselves, and not just because I ordered or rewarded them.
First, I tried the Yucky List. A colleague of mine had it at home, and it worked perfectly for her family. The idea is that it is only natural to have different tastes and that you don’t need to like everything. The concept is that each family member can have three dishes they really don’t like, on that list. When it is served, they are allowed to refuse it and have bread instead. Or hope for a mom who cooks two different dishes in advance. Of course over time, you can change your preferences but when a fourth dish you don’t like is served to you, you have to eat it, before you can put it on the list (replacing another).
It seemed promising but after a few weeks, the kids started to change their list about every other day. Way too many family dinners were filled with ‘I will put this on my yucky list for sure!’ and a lot of moaning and struggling, which didn’t really lighten the mood as I had hoped it would. We might pick it up again when they are older but for now, it doesn’t work for us.
After that, I changed my strategy to handing out a Yucky Coupon, Bah Bon in Dutch. I borrowed the idea from a friend who used to do cooking for youth camps. At these camps, each of the kids was given one Bah Bon for the duration of the camp. They could hand it in if they didn’t want to eat one of the meals that was cooked for them. Of course, they only could do that once. And the ones who still had the Bah Bon at the last day of camp, could hand it in, in exchange for ice cream.
So that’s how we do it now and it works like a charm! The kids both have their weekly Bah Bon, which is very conveniently posted on the magnetic wall next to the dinner table. Whenever they complain about dinner (or lunch or breakfast), we just point to their Bah Bon and remind them they can hand it in if they wish. No strict words, just giving them a choice and a visual reminder. Our son hasn’t missed his Sunday ice cream once. Our daughter has, once, and she’s not likely to miss another.
Of course, this will only work if ice cream is really a treat for your kids. Mine don’t really get candy or other sweets that often, so for them this works perfectly.
And of course, it’s still kind of a bribe. But I like it much more than the daily ‘If you don’t eat it, you can’t have desert’ bribe. For one, because we don’t have desert every day. Second, because they have to manage the discipline to work all week for their ice cream, rather than getting an instant reward. Third, because I don’t exactly sell the ice cream as a bribe or reward but rather as an interpretation of the 80/20 rule: if they eat healthy and balanced all week, it is all right to have something unhealthy every once in a while.
Most importantly, I like this system because the kids themselves really like this system. They like being in control of what they (don’t) eat without any pressure from us, and most of all they absolutely love our weekly ceremony when they officially hand in the Bah Bon they saved in exchange for their well deserved treat.
Do you have a personal or cultural take on the food you serve your kids? And do you need similar strategies to convince them about it?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by K10K from The Penguin and The Panther.
The picture in this post is credited to the author.
I’m Italian. I grew up being forced to “clean my plate” irrespective of the quantity or quality of the food on it. As a result, I have struggled with my weight my whole life. 🙁
I didn’t want that for my children. Having studied Child Psychology before my children were born, I felt confident that (in the presence of adequate food) children NEVER starve themselves (even if they skip the occasional meal). Also, our (undistended) stomach is the size of our fist. If you are worried that your child isn’t eating enough, ask them to make a fist for you and then consider if the amount you want them to eat is actually realistic! Anyway, armed with those 2 facts, the rule in my house was simple, if you don’t eat what I’ve prepared for dinner, that’s fine, but you don’t get eat anything else. This was said very calmly and “matter-of-fact”. I have NEVER “bribed” or “forced” my children to eat anything, but I have also NEVER cooked more than 1 dinner. Bottom line in my house was, if you’re hungry you eat what I made you. If you’re not hungry, you don’t have to eat. My daughter is 18 years old now, and is the perfect weight for her height. She has no hangups about food at all. My son is 21, he’s also thin and eats anything and everything. Maybe I was lucky, but there were never food “issues” at my house. 🙂
Yes, indeed! It has long been my motto as well: they will not starve themselves, so I will as such not force them to finish their plates.
But on the other hand, they do not choose healthy by themselves. So in the Bah Bon system, I only put really minimal amounts on a part of their plates they ‘have’ to eat. Less than a fist full 😉 After that, they can choose whether they finish the rest of their plate.
I love the idea of Bah Bon! My daughter sneaks sweets, though, so I don’t know what the bribe would be if not ice cream. She also isn’t with me on weekends, so rules are hard to implement (as they’re not nearly the same in the other household). However, I definitely want to give it a go, especially with drinks. She does not like drinking water!!! That must be our biggest struggle. Any suggestions? We have talked about adding a fruit like they do in spas. I am against crystal light & the kind, as I have no clue what’s in there. She’s 12.5 yrs now, and as is most common is going through some hormonal changes which make these ‘conversations’ unpleasant.
Simona, my mother raised us exactly the same way! If it’s on your plate, you eat it. One thing she did do at some point, however, was give us the choice of either being served our plate, or putting food on it ourselves. IF she plated our food, and it ended up being too much, we didn’t have to finish it. If we did our own, we HAD to eat it all up! This kind of worked because we wanted to do it ourselves, of course! 😉
One dangerous thing that came with her putting food on our plate was that then she felt she had to eat the left overs. I am not sure how, but I trained myself to not to that with my children, and as far as for when we are eating out, I acknowledge I have no control over the portion given to me, so I don’t have to finish it. If I can take it to go, I do. If not, then I leave it.
This works the same for home. If my daughter dishes her own plate but doesn’t finish it, the next thing she has to eat is the left overs from that meal.
Seems tough to have different rules on eating (and other rules) in different houses! But I guess you could find your own system (e.g. treat on Friday) and she will understand this particular rule is for your house, don’t you think?
I’m really fortunate my kids actually like drinking water. They would prefer sweet stuff of course, but they don’t really mind. When we’re out, the rule is ‘one sweet drink (juice) and after that, only water’.
Maybe you could talk about some challenge that she wants YOU to take (I’m sure every daughter thinks her mother has flaws 😉 ). That way, your challenge for her would be to drink for example three glasses of water each day, and you ‘reward’ her by taking on another challenge she finds important.
Other treats than sweets could maybe also work? Like (in house) Movie Nights each Friday after a week in which she drank her daily amount of water?
I kind of like the idea, and love the 80/20 method! I’m not very organized so anything that recquires something steady won’t work for me but I like it.I guess I may even kind of adapt it to fit our family. But now’s holiday time where any routine jumps out of the window so thats it.. startingt from September, maybe. I agree that we shouldn’t obsess about what our children eat but still make sure they eat enough good things. As for cleaning their plate, if they pick what they eat, it’s fine I think. I’m struggling right now with my eldest who gets so distracted that she forgets to eat her dinner even if it’s in front of her and then I figure, oh OK she’s not hungry except at bed time she suddenly remembers that she’s hungry. So I need to pay closer attention to whats he eats. Not easy but I hope it will solve itself.
Indeed, I’ve tried that as well. Just letting them get away with not eating. But then my daughter would complain about being hungry 5 minutes after leaving the table, and make a great fuss about getting their plates back. And with ‘fuss’ I mean a full hour of screaming, kicking and biting. So that didn’t work either.
My Japanese husband and I have *very* different ideas when it comes to food. My kids are, in general, good eaters, but they each have a couple of things they don’t like. I’m okay with that, but food is such a big part of Japanese culture that the people around us just cannot let it go. ＞_＜
Maybe you can convince your husband that your kids can have a (limited) Yucky List 😉
I have 2 sons, ages 8 and 4. My 8 year old was incredibly picky growing up (nothing touching, things prepared very specifically, very basic diet), but he ate something in every food group and continues to grow more open to trying new things. He has had sushi, tacos, smoked salmon, and a variety of other things. These items are still outside his comfort zone. He may only take 1 bite, but he is willing, which is huge. He even likes to buy hot lunch at his school most days. It’s not the best nutritionally, but I allow it because it is a very brave display for someone who formerly would freak out about oranges that didn’t have every little scrap of rind removed before eating.
My 4 year old is leaps and bounds MORE picky! I don’t battle. At each main meal of the day, he can choose to eat or not. But if he doesn’t eat the good stuff, he will not have any junk food, empty calorie treats or desserts for the rest of the day. We talk a lot about needing to eat the healthy food if you want to indulge in the more processed stuff later (and I mean a little cup of crackers as part of snack, etc….we don’t overload with junk). My older son is a great example and always eats his healthy stuff. Slowly my younger is opening up, and if he doesn’t, he knows it was his decision. I won’t fight about it even if he wants to.
I enjoyed hearing about your experiences and wish you luck at the table!!!
Seems indeed like very picky eaters, but you must indeed be proud of your eldest, to at least try, and to be such a good example to his little brother!
We used to battle and fight, but it made diner time something to dread, so I’m really glad we found a compromise that works for us all!
I agree! I feel like buying healthy and cooking healthy at home eliminates my stress when we’re out to eat or when they’re with a friend and are offered lots of sweets.
I love the idea of the Bah Bon card, and I loved hearing about it first hand when we met this month in Belgium!! That was amazing!!
Yes! I used to be VERY stressed about them having unhealthy snacks (like at the grandparents…), but with the 80/20 rule I’m way more relaxed. We only cook fresh and healthy food, and with the Bah Bon system they actually eat it, so they càn have junk on occasion.
And yes, our meeting WAS amazing!