I figured I would open with a story.
One of my favorite stories my husband tells from his childhood is the time his brother, Joey, decided he wasn't going to eat his dinner. It started off with his brother saying "I don't like (insert food item here)." His mother, Maria said "Fine." Cleared his plate and his brother left the table triumphant in his win against eating whatever fare my mother-in-law had cooked (By the way, she is probably the best cook I know of in real life).
Later that evening, Joey was hungry. Maria, being as savvy to the human psyche as she is a pork shoulder, offered Joey his dinner plate that she had carefully wrapped in plastic and returned to the fridge. Joey immediately changed his mind and convinced himself he could hold out to breakfast. This was a battle of both wits and stubbornness. He's bound to win, right? No one is going to starve their own child because he doesn't want to eat his dinner, right?
The next morning, the boys woke to a breakfast spread like they had never seen. Pancakes, bacon, eggs, the works. They were called to the table. My husband and Father-in law were served a hot, fresh meal. Joey's place had his dinner from the previous night at his place at the table. Maria then gently explained "This is going to rot in a few days. I suggest you eat it now."
It goes to show how much a generation has changed parenting in the area of eating habits. I bring up this funny story because while Maria's methodology may seem a bit harsh, it is certainly effective. While I may not go as far as she does, here are some do's and don'ts about getting your kids to eat better.
Have them Cook: I'm not telling you to hand your toddler your Henckels Santoku knife and a deep fryer and saying 'Have at it.' But what I am telling you is that there is plenty that your child starting at age two can help you with in the kitchen. You measure, they pour type of things. Chop your veggies and have them put them in a glass bowl before you saute them. Have them test the noodles and tell you when they're done. And with the plethora of kid friendly recipes on sites like Sproutonline.com, There are literally hundreds of ways to involve your kid in cooking. For example, Max can handle making things like English Muffin Pizza with very little help from me aside from cutting the muffins and putting them in the oven. There's even Masterchef Jr. now! And please Don't stress about the clean up. Your kitchen will be messy but who cares! It's fun and your kid(s) will LOVE cooking for the family.
Eat as a Family: Start young. Even if you're eating steak and your baby has just started on mushy foods, Puree whatever you made and feed it to them (as soon as you've ruled out allergies of course). I SWEAR this is why Max will eat everything we give him. And ok, maybe not steak, but you get my point. When we were kids, there was no "Option B because I don't like option A." so that should not be the case now. I often get asked "Wow. Max likes fish. Why is that?" Well, because we eat fish a lot. When I make fish tacos, Max eats fish tacos. Dinner time is family time. And while I admit, yes, sometimes we end up sitting in the living room watching Ellen while we eat dinner, everyone's plate looks the same. Protein, starch, veggie.
Implement the "No Thank You Bite" Rule: There is a reason your mother used to tell you "How do you know you don't like it when you have never tried it?" and that's because it's true. BUT new tastes and textures can be scary for kids. So here at Casa Awesome, we are huge fans of the "no thank you bite." So far (knock on wood), Max has only hated one thing: beets. So, we don't serve him beets all that often (though he does have to try them when they're offered. Their taste buds change.) Before you appease your kids and run to the kitchen to improvise a meal that they will eat, have them try what you cooked first. You may be pleasantly surprised on the new foods they add to their repertoire. But (and this is important) DON'T give in. If they're unwilling to at least try, don't rush off to heat up those nuggets.
Make a Meal Plan: Everyone knows children thrive more when you set expectations and follow through with them. If they expect chicken on Monday and pizza on Friday, follow through on those things on those days the best that you can. Include them in the process. What do you want want for dinner that is good for everyone? Is there something you liked and we haven't had it in a while? Talk. To. Your. Kids. I cannot stress this enough.
Let them win once in a while: Max is happy to sit down and eat an avocado with a spoon, but you know what else he loves? Hot dogs. And Mac and cheese. And tater tots. And PB&J. And the Pièce de résistance of toddler food: The chicken nugget. And guess what...I love them too (don't you judge me...judgey mcjudge face). So every so often, That's what we have. And you know what? It's delicious.
Don't "Hide" food: Just stop. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. Lie to them about Santa and the tooth fairy. Not meatloaf laced with sweet potatoes and quinoa.
Be a Hypocrite: Don't tell your kids how important eating your veggies is and not choke them down yourself. I promise, your kid sees you tossing your peas away while he was scolded for not eating his. Not. Cool. Maybe try a new way to prepare them that everyone likes. Peas for example, are better sauteed in some coconut oil with salt and garlic than they are steamed. Try it. Thank me later.
Forget YOU'RE THE PARENT: While Maria's method may seem unorthodox now, I think there is some valuable merit in it now. She, and you dear reader, are the boss. As my own father would say "When you have a job, make money, do the shopping and contribute to the household funds, you can decide what we eat. Until that day comes, this is what we got." If you're constantly cutting the crusts off of sandwiches and making a second meal because "She won't eat that" then you may be underestimating a child's ability to manipulate the system. They're not dumb. They're not going to starve themselves. Promise.
I'm not here to tell you what to do to get your picky eater to eat. These are merely the methods we use and have worked for us. So I am crossing my fingers and hoping that they work for you, too. Remember that food can be fun. So get messy, get involved. Get fun aprons and make it an event. Even if you start once a week. I promise, your kid will light up and have so much fun just being with you and you'll have some great memories. And who knows, you may just be raising the next Gordon Ramsay.