Entries in Refusing Food (93)


My Kid is a Super Eater at School but Not at Home

I'm always glad when parents tell me their children are adventurous eaters at school but not at home.

OK, maybe we're not talking adventurous. Maybe your kids are just willing to try something when it is presented by the teacher...or the nanny...or the grandparents...or...well, anyone but you.

It's frustrating. But it can also be a cause for celebration.

When children are willing to eat for someone else, it means:

  • There is no oral-motor issue to resolve.
  • No extreme sensory sensitivites.
  • No medical condition.
  • No psychological condition.
When a child eats one way with one person and another way with another person you're dealing with a plain old, garden variety, control struggle.

You can never win a control struggle by out-controlling your kid.

You might think you've won a control struggle -- your child will eat another bite of broccoli in order to get to the pie - -but this is a false win...you'll have to use the big guns again tomorrow. Read Wheelin' and Dealin': 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Trade Peas for Pie.

Control struggles often look like a game of catch: first I have the ball (control) and then you have the ball (control). We need a new model: shared control.

It doesn't mean the solution will be easy. It does mean that the path is clear.

Here is my 6 Step Plan for Turning Super School Eaters into Super Home Eaters.

This plan is authoritative parenting in action. It combines structure with warmth and compassion. It also teaches the three eating habits: proportion, variety, moderation. 

1. Discuss the situation with your child, in a non-threatening, non-accusatory, non-pressure way: "I have noticed that you are willing to eat mashed potatoes at school but you don't want to eat mashed potatoes at home. Can you tell me why?

2. Don't try to reason with your child. Don't try to talk your child out of eating this way. Don't try to talk your child into eating another way. When kids eat this way, they're not operating with their rational brain. Anything you say to "argue" your point will be met with resistence.

3. Implement the Rotation Rule and the Eating Zones Rule at home.

  • The Rotation Rule, not serving the same food two days in a row, will set a foundation for new food acceptance. It will also provide structure for making eating decisions that go beyond, "This is what I want to eat right now." The Rotation Rule makes eating decisions predictable, not arbitrary, and that cuts down on the fighting.

   If you aren't familiar with the Rotation Rule, read End Picky Eating with the Rotation Rule.

  • The Eating Zones Rule sets a structure for when food is available and when food is not available. This helps children learn the natural consequences of not eating -- they get hungry -- and that they can live with temporary hunger. Both are extremely valuable lessons for kids to learn. The Eating Zones Rule will help YOU remember that a meal or snack is always around the corner. 

   If you aren't familiar with the Eating Zones Rule, read Hunger vs. Appetite.

4. Turn your picky eater into a Food Critic. Explore the sensory properties of food with no expectation that your child will eat food that is being sampled. Read: Unleash Your Toddler's Inner Food Critic.

5. Start serving whatever you want at meals. But be nice, make sure there is always something familiar on the table.  

  • Make sure you rotate through familair foods. In other words, don't put bread on the table every day.
  • Don't make the familiar food a favorite food, such as pasta, except occasionally.
  • It's OK if the familiar food is boring, such as broccoli and/or rice.
  • Consider using a backup. Read How Cottage Cheese Changed My Life.

6. Keep the conversation going. Authoritative parenting combines structure and warmth/compassion. It is a model of shared control, that's all about teaching.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


The Argument Against Making Food Fun for Toddlers

Experts are always telling parents to make food fun. I’m here to tell you that this is misguided advice.

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with fun food. Everyone enjoys a little levity in their diets. I’m just saying you don’t have to make food fun. 

I’ll even go one step farther: regularly making food fun teaches kids the wrong lessons.

Who came up with the idea that children shouldn't be expected to eat food unless it's fun? And that this is especially true for healthy food? 

Now, I admit that for years, I plopped food on my daugther's plate in the shape of a face. But that was artful plating, not food art. And I didn't have to do it. Indeed, if I had ever felt that my daugther required (or demanded) the food art in order to eat, I would have stopped immediately.

The "Fun Food Factor" not only puts the pressure on parents, but it also distorts the power relations between parents and children. 

Right? If you've got to present food in a way that pleases your kids, who is in charge? You or them?

Now, I'm not saying that parents shouldn't create some levity at the table. In fact, enjoyment— you know the kind where everyone likes being at the table— can improve how toddlers eat.

But I’m not talking about the “draw some ketchup happy faces on your kid’s plate” kind of fun.  I’m just talking about garden-variety fun. You know, where your child actually enjoys eating. At the table. With you!

Research shows that eating enjoyment reduces picky eating.  In other words, feed your picky eater some enjoyment, and your picky eater might just stop being so picky.

What lessons should kids learn about eating?

  1. Food nourishes the body.
  2. Hopefully, the food tastes good too. But sometimes, you have to eat a clunker.
  3. Kids should eat the food you serve because it makes them good family citizens.

Of course, in order to be good eaters, kids have to learn how to try new foods. If that's your struggle, read my step-by-step, blow-by-blow guide to introducing new foods.

It is the stress, not the lack of food art, that kills how kids eat.

Many kids simply shut down when they feel stressed about eating. And that's true even when the food is "fun." And that's why searching for the right design, or the right recipe, can't solve a picky eating problem. So make food fun when you want to, but not when you have to.

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: van der Horst, K. 2012. “Overcoming Picky Eating. Eating Enjoyment as a Central Aspect of Children's Eating Behaviors.” Appetite 58: 567-74


Introducing New Foods: Where to Go From Here?

You've come a long way, baby.

But maybe not as long a way as you would like.

  • The good news is that if you follow this step-by-step, blow-by-blow guide to introducing new foods, it's guaranteed to change how your kids eat.
  • The bad news is that no matter how much progress you make, at some point, your child will slide back.

This is the last installment in my series The Step-by-Step, Blow-by-Blow Guide to Introducing New Foods that's Guaranteed to Change How Your Kids Eat. If you're new, start here.

Here's my last piece of advice...and I'm sorry, it might feel like a downer, but it's meant to be an upper.

You've got to plan for failure...er...the future!

In my experience, kids will "play along" for some amount of time...until they stop. (I hate to be the one to break it to you.)

The thing to remember is that these setbacks are just that...setbacks.

If you have a plan then the setback won't throw you off-track. It will just be a pause. A deep breath. A moment of reflection.

What can you do when your children—who have been doing a really good job tasting new foods— suddenly stop tasting new foods?

  1. Talk to your kids about what is going on in a non-judgmental way.
  2. Take a mini-vacation from tasting.
  3. Take a few steps back. Reverting to an easier step will bring your child back onboard. Instead of tasting, offer a smell, a touch, or just a look.
  4. Pull out the heavy hitters: start offering tastes of ice cream, cookies, etc. This reminds your children that tasting can be fun. Read Take a Walk on the Wild Side.
  5. Remember those shampoo instructions: rinse and repeat.
  6. Have a class of wine!

Got questions? Ask.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~