March 25, 2013

TeN TiPS and TRiCkS to GeT YoUr KiDS to EaT

images (8) {FYI, the children pictured in this post are not mine, they are just pictures to keep things interesting}
I have a magical house.   At least that is what my sister, sister-in-law and neighbors say.  For some reason when small children set foot in my house I can get them to eat just about anything. . . even my very picky Down Syndrome sister will sit down and take bites of food she hasn’t touched in years.  It’s not really something I set out to do, it’s just sort of an happened.

I shared this secret with some of the Mom’s at my daughters dance class.  The next week they were all so excited…their kids were eating!  And not just salts and sweets, but vegetables!! It got me to thinking…these things seem so natural to me, but maybe they could be of help to some other Mom’s out there.

Now before I go on I have to preempt the following tips with a little forward. I am NOT in any way really qualified to be writing about children’s eating habits.  I took a couple of classes on nutrition in college, along with some behavioral modification classes (I have a major in Psychology) and have read a log of magazine articles on the subject, but that’s about it.

However my kids do eat, and they eat well. 

I don’t worry that I am cooking for dinner isn’t “kid” friendly, if it sounds delicious, I make it. 

I can take them to any restraunt I want without considering the menu.

My oldest loves sushi.

My seven year old loves peppers…
…anyway you get the picture. They are good eaters. 

Do I have your attention?  Want to know my secret?  Well here are the rules at our house that seemed to have worked their magic.

1.  NO SNACKS. - Now you are thinking I am crazy.  Keep reading.

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Kids by nature LOVE to snack.  I mean honestly who doesn’t?  My kids are NOT allowed to snack.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t let them have snacks, but snacks are at set times and they have to ask my permission before they eat anything

Controlling? Yes, but I have found this it is key to good nutrition.  We eat breakfast, lunch, a snack in the later afternoon (typically when the oldest get home from school) and dinner.  I usually let my four year old eat a morning snack as well.  The no snack rule does not apply to babies or toddlers,  their tummies are too little.

2. THE TWO HOUR RULE – Two hours before dinner there is absolutely no eating.  You want them to come to dinner hungry…even starving if that is what it takes.  The more they hound you and beg for food before dinner the better.  Now this part is important, this rule includes no milk or juice, they are big time appetite killers.

3. MAKE EXCEPTIONS – Okay so those rules set aside sometimes dinner is running late, kids hit growth spurts or have soccer practice…whatever. 

When I can tell they genuinely feel like they are going to simply DIE if they don’t eat something before dinner I will make an exception.  BUT if they eat, it has to be a fruit or vegetable.  I mean really, what do I care if they spoil their dinner by eating carrots?  If they turn down fruits or vegetables they really aren’t that hungry and they can wait until dinner.

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{Not my son}

So now it’s dinner time and the kids rush to the table feeling like you’ve tortured and starved them.  Now what?  The first thing you want to slap down on their plates it the healthiest part of the meal.  It is crazy how well this works, (IF they are hungry).  If you are just staring out with this techniques you many want to even wait to put the other food on the table.  It’s amazing what kids will eat if they are hungry and the don’t see any other options.

4. EAT DINNER AS A FAMILY – Nothing new here right?  Good bonding time, lowers kids risk of substance abuse, make them less likely to smoke…all that jazz.  But it’s also a good time to set an example. 

If kids see Mom and Dad eating healthy they are a lot more likely to eat healthy.  Even better when the three year old is introduced to something new you can watch them looking to their older siblings to see if all  is safe.  If big bro and sis. chow down without hesitation, the little ones are much more likely to give it a try.   If your husband has bad eating habits…well good luck.  I have no idea what to do with that.

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{Not my family}

5.  THERE IS NO BACK UP PLAN – I may get lots of hate mail for this one, but I am going to say it anyway. 

I am not a fan of the whole, if you don’t like it you can make yourself a PBJ, strategy.  I know that works for some families, and if your goal is just to get your kids to eat something…anything…I am sure it works great. BUT if you want them to eat what you’ve made for dinner, and try new things…not such a good option. 

Kids love routine, and things familiar to them so of course they are going to opt for something the know they love and are familiar with rather than try that weird pasta with some sort of sauce sitting on their plate. 
Besides,as a Mom doesn’t it tick you off when you’ve spent over an hour on dinner and nobody eats it but you?  It would just make me seethe to watch my kids make themselves a PBJ while there is a perfectly good dinner that I poured my heart and soul into sitting on their plate. 

Anyway moving along.

6.  EIGHT MAKES IT GREAT – This is actually one of those tips that I read in a magazine somewhere that stuck with me.  The article was on some research about introducing new foods to kids.  It said that for various reasons they found that it can take up to EIGHT times of trying a new food before kids will even be opened minded about liking it.  Once they tried it for the seventh or eighth time most kids ended up really liking the new dish.

 I’ve tried this on my kids and guess what…it works.

7. I HATE CAULIFLOWER – This is the “use common sense” rule.
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Everyone hates some sort of food right?  For example I hate eggs, tomatoes and cauliflower.  As an adult I have tried them several times (way more than eight) thinking my taste buds will change, but guess what… I still hate them. 

Kids are entitled to hate some foods just like we grown ups do, and research has shown that forcing them to eat them almost always makes them hate them even more. 

8. OFFER VARIETY – Because of the above rule I always try to offer variety in my meals.  That way if they really do hate something we are eating there are still plenty of other options to fill their bellies.  I also try to be sensitive about the things I can genuinely tell my kids don’t like and offer some kind of easy alternative.  For example my seven year old went through a phase were he didn’t like red sauce on his spaghetti.  For the most part he is a good eater, so i decided not to fight him on it...this could be his thing he just hates.  When we have spaghetti he either eats it with just cheese, or sometimes we will have something similar to an all you can eat pasta bar with two or three pasta and sauce options…including alfredo sauce, which he does like. 

The tricky part here is too keep a balance.  Allow your kids some flexibility in their dinner choices, but put on the brakes quickly if every meal has to be a 10 course meal with 20 different options to satisfy everyone.  Having to make exceptions and offer alternative she be a rarity, not a daily thing.

7. KIDS HAVE HYPER SENSATIVE TASTE BUDS-  This is another article I read that stuck with me.  Again another magazine talking about research.  This time the research done showed that kids taste buds are super sensitive.  Put another way sweets taste sweeter and spicy things taste spicier.  That makes total sense right?  This article went on to say that what might have a little kick to an adult can be completely overwhelming to a kid.  Keeping that in mind I try not to be cruel to my children and keep the spices on the down low. 

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The last rule is by far not the least.  At the end of each meal we always have some kind of a treat (hey I never said we were health freaks).  That doesn’t mean that I always make some kind of big fancy treat, or that we have some huge dessert.  Sometime it is just a Chips Ahoy cookie, or we split a can of pop, but there is always something. 

The kids have earn their treat though.  That DOES NOT MEAN that they have to eat everything on their plate. 

Referring back to research again…research shows that forcing your kids to eat everything on their plate teaches them to override the I am full sensation and keep eating  This can play a huge part in weight problems down the road. 

It does however mean that they have to eat most of the vegetables and whatever else I deem important that night. Plus because of rule number six, they ALWAYS have to at least try one bite of everything.

I love the treat incentive because it make my life easy.  I don’t care if you eat all of your veggies, I am not going to fight with you about it, but if there is room in your stomach for a cookie, than there is room in your stomach for vegetables.  Plain and simple…eat good food…get good treat. No arguments.  There has been plenty of times that my kids have not eaten what I have asked them to.  When they make that choice I don’t make a big fuss over it, or fight with them…sometimes I think kids just aren’t hungry, but they certainly do not get the treat…even if everyone else does.  A little harsh I know, but if you give in..even once, there will be hell to pay down the road. 

My last tip really isn’t a rule, just a helpful hint.  My seven year old Brayden is my pickiest eater. 
 2012-21031-18 {This one does belong to me, this is Brayden my seven year old.}

A couple of months ago when he was going through a particular bad picky phase I was “inspired” to have him help me cook dinner for a couple of nights.  I was absolutely shocked at how much pride he took in these meals he helped me make.  He was so proud of his food he was sure as heck going to eat it.  He ate every single bite with out a complaint.  YEAH for inspiration!

Well that’s it.  That’s my magic.  A lot to read if it’s not info. you need.  But, hopefully there are some of you out there that are in desperate need of some Mom to Mom advice, otherwise I just spent a REALLY long time typing this up for no purpose (: 

Now if any of you have any magic tricks for getting your kids to go to bed on time, doing their homework and chores with out complaining, or how to deal with sassy pre-teens (is nine consider pre-teen???) Please do share!  Especially on that last one. My magic seems to be limited to meal time only.


  1. I need to follow your rules...I have a VERY picky 6 year old :)
    Hopefully this will make our dinners much more happy!

  2. What a fantastic list! Thanks for sharing. I feel pretty awesome about myself that I follow quite a few of those, but there are definitely some I need to adopt and improve on. Thanks so much!