Are you facing food battles in your home? You’re not alone. Read on to find out how we deal with it in our home.
Q: I’m a mum of two (3 and 16m) and was wondering if you had any specific advice about encouraging 3 year olds with regards to eating new things. We try and get him to try something newish once or twice a week and it often ends up with half an hour or so of howling (he’s not allowed anything else if he doesn’t try or his favourite cereal the next morning) before he’ll reluctantly try something. I’m reluctant to ‘force’ him with threat of discipline as I don’t want to turn food into a major battle ground and I think some of it is that fear that kids his age get about putting unfamiliar things in his mouth but also want to avoid the long drawn out wailing it has become and for him to get used to trying new things with a positive attitude…any thoughts?
A: I would not make eating the central battleground for a child who does not obey in general, but –that said– I do require that they eat some of everything.
What I mean by that is this: my battles are fought elsewhere, but my authority is used to influence their eating. So I can and will (after I’ve consistently proven to them that I am committed to out-stubborn them for their own good) take on a food battle, but I prefer to just insist that they eat once they’ve already (in other areas) given into the idea that I am their authority.
TEACH OBEDIENCE IN ALL THINGS, THEN MEALTIMES WON’T BE A WARZONE
So, for example, I’d tend to outlast and be FIERCE about obeying me about not having a tantrum, or about picking up the toys if I ask them to, or about taking their diaper to the trash, or about staying in bed at night… but if they are not obeying me in those other, daily areas, I would not pick food battles, or make mealtime a battleground. But once they’ve already yielded to me across other areas, it makes mealtime things easier. They know I am the authority. They know that it’s no use trying to outlast me, whine, complain, moan, stomp, fuss, whatever… so then, in general, mealtimes are not (typically) combative.
OK, that said, I also don’t press things they find particularly gross. Each of my kids is allowed to have one (give or take) thing they really don’t like. I don’t make them eat it, but I also am not a short-order-cook and will not make them something different. By choosing not to eat with the family, they are choosing to either eat something they can make for themselves (PBJ? cheese & crackers?) or not eat.
COACH IN ADVANCE OF THE MEAL
I would also coach in advance: “we’re about to have lunch. You are to eat what you’re given and be polite and thankful. You are not to grump or fuss. If you do, you will get X.” Give him the proactive teaching to know what to do when he sees something on his plate that he doesn’t know if he’ll like. Tell him how you want him to handle that.
TEACH THEM TO COUNSEL THEIR OWN HEARTS WITH WISDOM
Sometimes (probably more like 4-5 year olds and up) I’ll even say,
“instead of thinking, ‘YUCK, I’m never gonna like that; it’s terrible! it’s green! I’ll never like it.’ I want you to think, “Mom and Dad like it. They say it’s good. I’m going to try it and see if it might be something I’ll like. It could be really tasty!”
Helping them give voice to their thoughts and to replace them with beneficial, winsome thoughts with a positive approach to the world is giving them tools that will benefit them for their whole lives.
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