I spend a lot of time on social media. In fairness, I probably spend WAY more time than I should on social media, but that’s not the point. I see a lot of my friends who are striving to change their diets and eat healthier, post things like this (not an actual post): Tonight for dinner I ate a baked sweet potato with shredded chicken, black beans, and salsa. It was really yummy. I made mac & cheese for the kids.
When I see a post like this I have great empathy for that mom. I WAS that mom for the first 7 years of my son’s life. I went through the first half of his life as a short order cook in my own home – I made 2-3 dinners every night: Something I wanted, something my husband would eat (often very different from what I wanted), and then yet a third “meal” for our son. It was exhausting, but that’s what I thought I had to do.
My son’s diet consisted of “kid foods” – pizza, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, PBJ, goldfish crackers, french fries, those disgusting Kid Cuisine dinners, etc. Of course there were good foods too – he’s always loved veggies. Anyhow, he had so many respiratory issues when he was little – asthma, allergies, pneumonia (twice) – and it seemed like he always had a cough and a runny nose. I never ever considered that his health issues and his diet could be related, and sadly our pediatrician never even asked about his nutrition because he was a normal sized kid.
Then, in 2010 everything changed. We moved in with Deb and I had an incredible opportunity to change everything. Deb taught me that the quality of the food we put in our bodies is one of the most important things we can focus on. I still remember sitting down to dinner at Deb’s that first night. We had roasted chicken, brown rice, and broccoli for dinner. Josh looked at his plate, then looked at me and asked “Where’s mine?” (assuming I had made a separate dinner for him). Deb’s daughter’s were wide-eyed. Deb and I explained to Josh that this was a “new house with new rules” and one of those rules was that dinner was dinner. He didn’t have to eat it, but there would be nothing else until breakfast. He looked at the plate, and looked at me, and back to the plate, and said “Okay.” (such a resilient boy 🙂 ) and he ate the dinner – AND HE LOVED IT! After 2-3 days, he stopped looking at his dinner plate with skepticism and started getting very inquisitive about new foods and ingredients.
In the years that followed (he’s almost 15 now), my son has developed the most expansive palate of any child I have ever met. He loves food! He is proud of the fact that he will try anything. He still doesn’t care for raw tomatoes or bell peppers, but he’ll eat squashes and brussel sprouts and quinoa, so I’ll take it! And a funny thing happened when we cleaned up his diet… All the respiratory issues vanished – within DAYS! POOF! GONE! He has missed exactly 3 days of school in the past 6 years (he had strep throat last year that took him down for a few days) due to illness. Eat well, be well… Who knew?
So, Moms who make multiple meals every night. I don’t judge you – I was you – but give yourselves a break and let your kids try your yummy healthy food! They will eat it – maybe not right away, but if you persist (and take away other options) they WILL eat it – and even love it! Here are just a few tips that worked for me.
- Ease into it. Kids are driven by what feels good, so if they are used to chicken nuggets and french fries and you stick a plate of broccoli and brown rice in front of them, expect some push back. But if you just start crowding out the less healthy stuff with good, wholesome food, all of a sudden they are eating healthier and better – better is a good word.
- Dinner is dinner. There are no separate meals – everyone eats the same thing.
- Involve the kids. Involve your children in menu planning. Ask them what they would like. If they say “PIZZA” – perhaps you could plan a make your own pizza night with sprouted grain tortillas as the crust and lots of veggie toppings. When kids have some say-so in what they are eating, they are more likely to eat it. Same goes for meal prep. Get the kids involved in the kitchen. If they cook it, they will probably eat it!
- 2-Bite Rule. My mom used this with me and I use it with Josh. Some foods just look gross on the plate. It is what it is. Lots of kids won’t eat something that looks gross. So, we have a rule: You have to try two bites of anything new. If you don’t like it after two bites, you don’t have to eat it, but you have to try it. They won’t automatically LOVE it, but after a few tries, they tend to accept it.
- Gag Food. We let each kid choose a “gag food” that they just WILL NOT eat. For Erin it was sweet potatoes, for Nicki it was rice, and for Josh it is raw tomatoes (I think he may have been switched at birth). They get a pass on this food, but they only get one and they can’t change it from day to day. It took Josh 3 years to decide that raw tomatoes was indeed his gag food.
Good luck and healthy eating!