As mums, we all want our kids to shine. To feed them healthy food that they actually EAT without fuss!
But when we lovingly prepare a healthy dish and they refuse to even try it, it can be heartbreaking and we often take it personally. We are our own worst critics!
Don’t be so harsh. When I serve a dish, if three out of four of my kids eat it without fuss, I call that major success. If none of them eat it, I enjoy it myself while they sit at the table and watch.
It’s not just the food we cook. The way we talk to our kids about food will help us to avoid table tears and tantrums (and not just from the kids!).
Here are my top 5 food sentence swaps to help create happier meal times and raise healthy eaters.
1. “Finish everything on your plate” becomes “Is your tummy feeling full?”
I remember my dad saying to me “Eat up, you never know where your next meal is coming from”. Sixty years ago his parents said it to him. For them it was true. Country hoping to escape war and a sister who starved to death- those were tough times. Food was rare, hunger was common. The opposite is now true. No longer is there feast and famine, most of us are lucky enough to live in feast all the time.
We need to help our kids manage in this world of excess. We need to teach our kids to listen to their internal hunger signs. To eat with awareness.
2. “Eat your veggies or you don’t get dessert” becomes “Green makes you jump high”
While the first sentence will often do the trick (although sometimes kids can be very, very stubborn) there is a problem. This strategy is setting up that veggies are something awful to be endured to get to the amazing dessert. We actually want veggies to be friend not foe and the food industry does a good enough job putting unhealthy food on a pedestal, we don’t need to help them!
Enjoy dessert sometimes, preferably not every night, but never make it a bribe or reward. Instead use clever marketing. Link foods to activities your kids like.
- “Broccoli makes you jump high”
- “I’ve given you peas and carrots tonight because they are great for strong swimming arms”
- “Let’s eat some brain food (fish) tonight for that maths test tomorrow”
3. “What would you like for afternoon tea?” becomes “Would you like a banana, carrot sticks or strawberries for your snack?”
The difference in this swap is subtle but important. The first statement is open-ended, the second has options. Getting kids involved in choosing what they eat is great but we don’t want to be short order cooks or constantly saying no to their requests.
Give your kids a small selection. They can choose from the menu you set. You give them options and they choose from those options. If they choose nothing, that’s ok.
When it comes to dinner they can choose as much or as little of each of the components of dinner. Make one dinner and let them choose from that.
Sharing the responsibility of eating is great for both the kids and parents. You are not responsible for getting them to eat, you are responsible for setting the choices on the menu.
4. “You don’t like broccoli” becomes “Don’t worry, you just need to try broccoli a few more times, you’ll like it soon!”
During kids cooking classes I run, many parents accidentally tell their kids they don’t like a food. Taste buds need time to get used to flavours. Foods need to be tried many, many times before they are accepted.
It is easy to get disheartened watching veggies moving around a plate but never making it to the mouth. Try following the lead of the French.
Instead of accepting that their kids “don’t like something” and stopping serving it, they assume that kids will learn to like it. They get their kids to taste the food and respond to any negative comments with “Don’t worry, you’ll like it when you are older.” And they never give up, because they believe what they are saying is true.
You need to believe this as well! It may not happen overnight, but it will happen.
5. “Pleeeeease eat some vegetables” becomes “Wow, this red capsicum is so sweet and crunchy today”
Instead of pleading with your kids, sit with them and enjoy the food. Swap begging for appealing, descriptive language. Sometimes I turn it into a game with my kids. “I’ve noticed no-one has eaten any crunchy green broccoli, let’s all eat some now, together”.
What would you rather eat – boring vegetables or fresh, sweet smelling corn?
Remember to praise your kids for trying, rather than growling for not trying. Concentrate on the positives. We want to encourage them to try (ideally with little or no coercion).
In our house we say “Try it, you may like it”. I explain that even though you tried it yesterday; you have to try it again because one day you will like it. You have to try things in different ways. Mashed pumpkin, pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, roast pumpkin…
Stay positive and try to keep meal-times relaxed and fun by changing your tune with how you talk to your kids about food.
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