Age 22 months, my son went from eating everything to eating nothing. I read everything I could find on How To Get Your Kid To Eat and found nothing much. It literally happened overnight. I remember it well. And I remember thinking – how on earth will I get my kid to eat? How was this badass MOM going to get her son to eat?
At the time I had just had my second child so was caught up and somewhat pre-occupied in all things newborn. I had to dig deep into my badass-ness to cope with this one. Dig I did. And I found a way out of it and as such, want to share it with you.
I found a way to get my kid to eat.
As I was to discover, my son decided that all he was going to eat was Heinz spaghetti from a can, toast, and Shreddies! At the time, I just played to it because it was all I could do. I didn’t fight it, probably because I didn’t have the time for it. I had to let it go and took the attitude that he was at least eating something and it could have been worse… I accepted the reality as it was. Looking back on things, this was pretty badass for a new mom!
For the best part of a year, he ate little else but, he came out of it. Slowly but surely, he started to eat other things.
Today, that 22 month old is a 6 foot 2, big strapping 17-year-old. He’s the picture of health, doing just fine and eats everything. Like EVERYTHING. He has a great interest in food; cooking, eating, and tasting.
At the time, I remember being a bit stressed about his extremely limited diet, but looking back, I guess my newborn distracted me more than I realized. But, I get it, when you are in it, it’s stressful. You worry. You’re a mum, it’s hard to see your child not eat well. We all want them to get every vitamin and mineral known to man and believe they will fail to thrive if they don’t.
It’s hard to not let fear kick in and worry about what might happen if they don’t eat!
I remember some of my friends asking me:
“What does your Doctor say about the fact your son isn’t eating anything remotely healthy?”
“Dr..?” I said “what do you mean?”
It didn’t enter my head to go to my Doctor about this. What would he have done? Found a way to drip feed my 22month old with freshly steamed broccoli and carrots!! Now that would’ve been badass!
So, how do I get my kids to eat?
Here’s the reality guys:
There are times in our parenting lives when our kids will dig their heels in about something and when it comes to food, they know that they have us by the short and curlies! And, let’s face it, it is not out of the normal for kids to be picky at some stage in their early years.
And there is NOTHING you can do about it. Like NOTHING. You cannot force a child to eat. They are not geese!! They cannot be force fed! The blessing in having a toddler that refuses to eat certain things is that it shows us early in our life as a parent that we really cannot control anything other than ourselves!
So, how do I get my kids to eat?
The only thing you can do is this: control yourself, your reactions and the environment.
Always remember that when it comes to food, you are treading on thin ice. It is very easy to dial into the drama, make a mountain out of a molehill of it and create some much bigger issues around food. The more fuss you make about it, the worse it’s going to get. I didn’t make a fuss and it all resolved itself over time.
We all know the saying:
“You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink…”
Well, in the same vein, you can offer your kiddos good wholesome, nutritious food, but you can’t make them eat. And if you make them, look out, because it might just come back and bite you on the bum!! It also helps to understand that very often the pickiness around food has nothing to with the food and more to do with control. It is a way in which our children can totally control the show! They play to our fear:
“OMG my child is going to be hungry. He might starve and get rickets and scurvy!”
I know. I hear you. I’ve been there. But, if you succumb to this, you will not be able to create new patterns around food. You will always cave to your underlying fear.
I have laid out my top 8 badass MOM tips below to help you get your kids to eat and to help you create some healthy patterns around food and mealtimes.
How do I get my kids to eat?
TIP #1: Avoid Using Dessert & Sweets As A Bribe Or Reward
Many moms ask this question:
Q: Should I use dessert to bribe my kids to eat their veggies?
I personally don’t believe in using food as a reward or bribe. I’m not a fan of bribes and rewards period. For example:
“If you eat your veggies, then you’ll get ice cream.”
I just heard a mom doing this a couple of nights ago. We were out for dinner and she said almost exactly that to her 4 or 5-year-old:
“Look, there’s ice cream for dessert. But you need to eat ALL of your main course before you’ll get it!” she said to her daughter.
Now, I didn’t see whether she held the limit she set, but… given the gigantic size of the portions and the tininess of her daughter, I would have been surprised if her daughter had managed to eat it ALL.
Can you see that through this bribe, this well-intentioned mom immediately set herself up for a potential struggle? For what? To ruin their evening out and make a big song and dance over a few fries, carrots and a sad-looking chicken strip?
If you really feel inclined to do this, I suggest you use the word WHEN rather than IF because at least then, it’s not quite so reward-ish in its offering! It makes it not negotiable.
“When you eat your veggies, then you’ll get your ice cream.”
There’s a big difference in the message it sends. It’s not then conditional.
You could also try saying something to this effect:
“We have to eat a balanced meal and as you haven’t had the protein and carbs you really can’t add the sugar. It’s not balanced and not good for your health. We need to balance the food types that we put into our bodies.”
Tip #2: Do Not Start Making Separate Meals To Get Your Kid To Eat
2 Questions I get asked regularly from clients I work with:
Q: I find myself making something different for each of my kids and it’s exhausting. What should I do?
Q: But what happens when my child won’t eat what I make for dinner?
This is a challenge for many moms. If you are happy making 2 or 3 different meals per night, I’d say don’t change things but if you are not, you are going to have to do something different to start to bring about change. And know that in doing so, you are probably not going to get a bit of pushback and not be popular!!
My advice to the moms I work with is to make one simple, basic meal. Plate it up and let it be. If they eat it, say nothing. If they don’t eat it, say nothing! Get into the habit of zipping it and not commenting on what they eat and don’t eat.
What you focus on grows, so focus on serving up a good wholesome meal, and act as if it’s all good. If you find yourself saying “You have to eat your veggies”, you have to know that it will fall on deaf ears and no matter how much you say it, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will eat them. In fact, it will probably make them less inclined to eat them because they know it is triggering you!!
When my three kids were younger, I took the attitude that if two of the three of them ate the meal I’d prepared, it was good enough. Looking back, another badass MOM mindset for me!
Tip #3: Balance is key
Personally, I believe that it’s okay for my kids to have a little junk food now and again. We’ve all seen the kid who is banned from all junk food at the parties!!! They just can’t stop themselves. Is that what you want to create? It is your choice though.
You can use the subject of junk food, candy, pop etc to educate your kids and create discussions around. Also, it helped me to look at it all over a period of time. 6 months or even a year (like I had) of picky eating over the course of 18 years spent with you, is not too bad really! Don’t let it consume you and become all you think about. At the time, when you are in the thick of it, sure, it’s hard, but in a few years, like me, you’ll look back on it as a distant memory. And, there will unlikely be any serious implications from it from a health perspective.
Keep things in perspective and rational. If for 80% of the time it’s not too bad, don’t fret over the 20%. And also remember, the pickiness is just for a short time in the grand scheme of things.
Tip #4: Snacks Are Snacks!
The next question I invariably get asked is this:
Q: If my son has not eaten his dinner, should I then give him crackers or something to at least fill him up? He is hungry!
If that’s what you feel called to do, no problem. But I wouldn’t fill him up with them unless you want him to know that there will always be an alternative to dinner. Remember, it’s the alternative dinner you are trying to avoid. Create the patterns you want and not play to the patterns you don’t want out of fear of your kids starving!
Some people would say, what’s the big deal if they fill up on crackers instead of dinner! It depends on your stance.
This next question is not usually far behind:
Q: Is it okay to give my kids a snack before bed?
This is, of course, a personal choice. For me, I think a snack before bed is fine. But remember a pre-bed snack is just that: a snack and not a meal! When you stick to this, it will not be seen as a viable alternative to not eating dinner. It really depends on the message you want to give your child and the patterns you want to create or avoid.
I totally believe that there are many kids who are simply picky eaters. But there are many kids who become picky eaters by knowing that their moms will cave and always make them something that’s their favourite and they will eat. Who wouldn’t do this? I would!
It’s hard but this is where a bit of badass can come in handy. You have to say what you mean and mean what you say.
Tip #5: Dial Down The Drama
Yes, I totally caved to my sons taste for Heinz pasta, toast and Shreddies but… I didn’t dwell on it, complain about it, or get so wound up about it that it ruined all dinners for a year. It simply was what it was and at that stage in my life, it was the lesser of two evils. Had it been my third child that did this, and I was making a meal for 4 anyway, I would not have made him a separate dinner. You do what you do in the circumstances and the situation.
Tip #6: Encourage Your Kids To Try Something Once
I always encouraged my kids to at least try something and if they didn’t like it, I still do. I don’t push it. And if they don’t try it, I let it go. Eventually, they start to try things. The less I pushed, the more they were prepared to try and probably because they knew they wouldn’t be forced.
When they were younger, I always put a bit of everything on their plates and if they ate it, great but if they didn’t I did not say a word. It takes a LOT of willpower to zip it and say nothing.
Hard, yes, but worth it, absolutely.
There’s nothing more draining than a mealtime spent nagging over food. It does nothing other than ruin the meal for all and leave you feeling exhausted and defeated in battle because you will never win this one and feel good about it. All it does is disconnect you when meal times are supposed to be a time to enjoy each other’s company and connect.
Tip #7: Control The Environment
I mentioned earlier that you can control the environment to somewhat control what they eat and drink when they are in the house, and before they are teenagers! For example:
- If your kids are drinking too much juice, don’t buy it so it is not in the house
- If they are eating too many cookies, don’t buy as many or any. Your choice:
- They can’t eat what’s not there
- I have 3 large Ziplock bags (labeled for each child) in the snack drawer in the kitchen. Each week I dish out the non-perishable snacks into each bag. That way they all get one or two of each (most snack bars come 5 -6 in a box) which avoids the fight when one of them eats ALL the best snacks!
- You know how hard it is to look at the chocolate in the fridge and not eat it? Kids are no different. Stack your fridge and pantry with the things you want them to eat and help them understand that treats are treats, and not fill me ups
Tip #8: Help Your Kids Understand That They Can’t Just Eat Their Favourites
It’s not abnormal for kids to want to eat only what they really, really like.
I found that my kids understood that they can’t expect to only eat their favourite food all the time, really helped them, and me. It can also help your kiddos to develop a healthy perspective and relationship around food. We had a discussion around these points listed below:
- Out of all the food you eat there will be your favourites – a few things
- Then there will be a few things that you like but don’t love
- Then there will be a few things you don’t really like but you’d eat; for example, if you were out or at someone’s house and it would be polite to eat some of it at least!
- And lastly, there will be a few things you HATE and, no matter what, you just cannot eat!
Not only will you get a better picture of everyone’s likes and dislikes, but it will help your kiddos understand that you can’t just feast on your favourites and that someone else’s favourites might not be yours but you are part of a family and we have to cater to everyone.
The other bonus is this: you will now have a list of foods and meals that you can prep from. A win for you!
At our family meetings, we still end the meetings with a food plan for the week. I ask each of the kids to name one meal they would like for the forthcoming week. I get 3 meal requests, and they come to realize that they all have different favourites and as such have to eat them (provided of course that they are not on their list of “just can’t eat”!).
Then I use this information to fill in my Weekly Meal Planning Chart and create my Grocery List from it. Boom. Honestly, doing this must save me about 3 hours in time per week. Total badass win. And you can do it too!
I hope that this has given you some food for thought… no pun intended! And that it has also given you some ideas to help you get your kids to eat.
As always, if you have any questions, please give me a shout. Happy to help.
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PPS. Did you know I have a podcast with over 300 episodes on all things parenting? You can find it HERE – The Parenting In The Thick Of It Show.