Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wanted: Tips for Happy & Healthy Family Dinner

Eco-novice wants your help turning a picky eater into an enthusiastic one.

In my house, we have some picky eaters. Probably my fault, but let's move past that. The point is, a little while ago I decided I was tired of preparing multiple meals (the real meal, plus what my 7yo and 5yo would actually eat) each night. I made my kids a deal: one meal each night, and they had to try it, but then on Fridays I would make them anything they wanted.

This sort of works, except that trying whatever I make often involves eating a microscopic amount preceded by many minutes of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. I think I would be OK with my kids only trying a little bit of what I made, and then filling up on fruit and grains or going to bed hungry, if I didn't have to listen to all the whining and complaining about the meal I just spent close to an hour preparing.

So here is my question for you, oh wise Booth readers. How does family dinner work at your house? Do you make kid-friendly meals that you know your kids will like? Make whatever you want and expect your kids to try it? Do you make meals you know certain of your kids will not eat, and if so, do you let them eat an alternative?

And here is perhaps the even more important question: how do I transition my picky eaters to adventurous eaters? I can find plenty of information about how important it is that I not be a short order cook and prepare one (not kiddy) meal that the entire family can enjoy together. But how do I get there from here? And live to tell about it. Because, seriously, the whining is really getting to me.

If your family dinner time is a happy experience, or if you have successfully transitioned a picky eater to a not picky one, I feel it is your duty to share your experience below. Thank you in advance.


sarabytheseason said...

We make one meal and everybody has to eat it. Admittedly, we have good eaters, so I'm not sure how helpful I am.

We make them try "thank you bites" of everything on their plate, which is equivalent to their age. So for our 5 yo, he has to try five thank you bites of everything (which often means he has to eat the whole thing). For some reason, this seems to help him mentally to be more adventurous.

I think your Friday meal idea is genius for what it's worth!

Anxious to read other people's ideas!

DramaMama said...

Have you seen the book Weelicious? There's a website and FB page to go with it...when I got it from the library, I started by having the kids pick recipes and then they helped make them. We were all happy w/the results! But I must say we have always had a policy like sarabytheseason. We make one meal. You eat what is served. Even when we had foster kids, we kept our policy in place. It didn't take long for everyone to realize that healthy food didn't kill them! In fact, all of our taste buds have changed. Just last night we ate a family favorite - kale pie! Don't ask me how my kids began to like it...I have no idea. I just kept serving it. I use about 6-7 eggs so it's closer to a quiche, but there is a ton of kale in it too. They have also come to like certain quinoa dishes - like the one w/candied squash, apples and cranberries. I have also found that if they are a part of the process, choosing from a variety of healthy options, they will often surprise me in what they like. Having a sense, however small, of control in it helps them. I also tell one friend who really struggles w/her kids eating junk - two things. One, I don't buy junk. Two, no one is allowed to eat anything unless it's approved. At her house, kids are going in and out of the cupboards all the time, eating whatever snack they find. Of course they don't want the dinner she cooks! I'm not saying that you are having that problem...just saying that I've noticed other families are a lot more flexible than mine. It seems mean at first and it's not easy to stay firm, but it's worth it in the end =) Good luck and I hope you find something that works for you! Remember no one is perfect and even though my kids love kale pie, they also balk at some stuff too. Stir fry was a hit, raw veggie spring rolls, not so much...it's a process and I'm still learning....

Green Bean said...

Have you been sitting at my dinner table?! My 11 year old will eat most foods but not the 9 year old. We have the tears, the whining, the tantrums and so on.

I usually end up making three meals. One for my husband and I. One for my 11 year old which is usually just the same my husband and I had but without spices (or with some meals, I can add the spices after) and something I scrounged together for my 9 year old. His meals are usually something that I would really not be feeding him - or the family. Sure, cheese quesadillas are okay but four nights a week!

I suspect that if I had had a policy like sarabytheseason from the get-go, I might not be in this boat.

For now, I do some of the things DramaMama suggests: raw veggie spring rolls, quinoa salad (I mix in the tomatoes and peppers after I serve the kids), stir fry (one spicy pan and one mild pan). My younger one has added a number of proteins (he is a vegetarian who doesn't eat beans or drink milk) and some vegetables to his diet.

Betsy Escandon said...

sarabytheseason -- love the idea of thank you bites and tying it to their age is perfect!

DramaMama, I have seen the Weelicious website. I will check out the book from the library. Mostly i wish my kids would just eat what I already know how and like to make, as I don't feel like I have time to try a whole slew of new recipes. But perhaps they could help me pick and make one meal a week or something. I agree that giving kids some control is a great strategy.

We are good about not buying junk food. So at least I know that what the kids DO eat is good food, just perhaps not from as many food groups as I'd like.

I guess partly I just want to know how long I'm going to be stuck with the whining before we turn the corner.

Green Bean, I'm glad I'm not the only one. My 3yo eats just about anything I make, although she always wants to eat it off of MY plate, so at least I have that. Sadly, my 5yo USED to be a better eater. Now so many things she used to like (salmon, eggs) she now refuses to eat. What's up with that?

Christy said...

No great advice or insights. But I do feel your pain.

Here's some if my thoughts on a similar vein:

Betsy Escandon said...

Thank you, Christy. I know plenty of parents who follow their kids around trying to get them to eat. I guess in the -- would they really starve themselves to death -- game of chicken, kids are bound to win. I guess I should be grateful I'm not dealing with that conundrum.

I will say this. One of my midwives used to always say not to worry about picky eaters -- that they eventually grow out of it. She said her daughter -- who only ate bagels and applesauce growing up went to college and started eating sushi and curries and the like. Maybe that will happen with your girls : )

Eco Yogini said...

Ok, I am a picky eater AND I worked with the feeding team for a few years. Here are my thoughts:
- I'm a picky eater for a few reasons- in my twenties I was diagnosed with IBS. Interestingly digestive problems can be linked to behaviours (and fears) around food from infancy. Reflux, GERD all that fun stuff.
- Yes children can actually go hungry instead of eating. It works like this: when you're upset (crying, wailing, stressed) your stress hormones go up up up, which decreases your appetite significantly. So yep, even if they don't eat they might legitimately not feel hungry.
- eating is a full sensory experience and for picky eaters it's everything from:
dealing with seeing the new, non preferred food visually
smelling the new np food
dealing with having it near or on the plate (some foods contaminate!)
tasting it
chewing it (and having the texture AND taste change as you chew it)

I honestly feel actually nauseous after trying a new food, it's such an overwhelming experience.

So- some tips:
I actually really like the making a meal together idea. Now- I'm not sure about cooking a meal together EVERY meal (that would make meal prep take forever), but maybe every week you and your children choose and cook together one meal.
- play with your food. Often times meals with picky eaters can be full of stress and anxiety (not good for those stress hormones that stop them from eating). So have fun with your food- meal times are supposed to be pleasant in our society. So much socialization and connections happen over food.
- if one type of food is too much to taste, maybe it's smaller steps- touching it, having it on their plate and then gradually moving to licking and then one bite. I know it seems like a snails pace- but you don't want melt downs for every meal.
- It actually takes TEN tries before your brain decides if it likes something. so don't give up! :)

the light at the end of the tunnel? As I've grown older I have tried more things and my tastes have grown. I now eat some sauces and some steamed vegetables! (yay!).

Betsy Escandon said...

Thank you for the perspective, EcoYogini. I like the idea of being more playful to lower stress. I hadn't really considered the role stress might play (just stubbornness). Maybe I'll get some of those face plates.

Lisa said...

A cookbook that has totally helped our family in this department is Katie Workman's The Mom 100 Cookbook. Highly recommend. And time helps too! My son (now a teen) has become much more willing to try new things as he's gotten older. Good luck!

Betsy Escandon said...

Thank you for the cookbook and perspective, Lisa.


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