Teaching kids about food - Betsy Brown Braun
Know that you play a role in the drama of food choices, mealtimes, and eating behaviours. Becoming aware of your contribution is the beginning of the lesson about how to stop the food battle.
- Model the eating habits you want your child to have.
Parents spend a whole lot of time focussing on what the child should and shouldn't eat, and hardly give their own eating a thought. At four in the afternoon, you are ravenous and grab a handful of whatever is closest. You're thinking, "It doesn't matter what I eat as long as Sarah is eating well." You are your child's most powerful food model. Your child is watching and will want to have what you have and do what you do. It is difficult to teach your child the importance of eating well and purposefully as part of being fit, to teach him the manners that surround our eating habits, if you do not model the ways in which we do that.
- Do not ever make food a battleground.
When you fight with your children about food, the fight becomes the focus, rather than the food. Sometimes the child will actually refuse the food he might otherwise eat (or want to eat) because the battle over it has begun. Not making food a battleground does not mean you have to give in, for example, allowing him to eat a dinner of his choice: it simply means you are not going to go to war. You can refuse to fight and say, "This is the dinner I have made. You can eat it or not." No engagement. No battle. (And no worries, please, that your child will starve!)
- Stop talking about food.
Serve the meal, sit down at the table, put the napkin on your lap, and talk about the weather! Don't talk about the meal. Hold your tongue. Your child will not eat as a result of anything you say. Your pre and post-meal comments will only complicate the issue taking it out of the realm of food and right into the realm of control.
- No more "clean plate club"!
Coercion isn't a sound form of parenting. Not only does it set you up for a power struggle, but the child also learns to rely on others to tell him much to eat and not pay attention to how full he feels.
- Food should never be a reward or a punishment.
Every human being deserves to be fed. Making food of any kind a reward or punishment adds a symbolic and emotional component to this most basic need of life. Food needs to be kept neutral. Coercion is neither a productive nor lasting form of child rearing.
- Refrain from "Please just take a bite."
It is close to impossible to get a three-to-five year old child to just take a bite. You might as well be asking him to eat worms. The child would rather be right, would rather have the power to decide what he eats, than give someone else control over what he eats. Some kids will agree to have a taste if they are also permitted to spit it out if you don't like it. Allowing a child not to eat it at all may be just what is needed to get him to give the new food a try, though I can't promise that this method won't create a new issue - the spitting-peas-across-the-table issue.