Hey everyone! Guess what?? Stevie, my wife/best friend/partner in crime/author of Big Awesome Mess stopped in to write this months #RealRealLife post! The theme was "tips and tricks for getting your kids to eat their dinner" and there is no one better at that than my wife. I'm horrible at talking the kids into eating. I basically do a line for line reenactment of the scene from Beauty and the Beast where Beast is trying to get Belle to come down to dinner.
On the other hand, when it comes to talking the kids into eating dinner, Stevie is the toddler whisperer. Here is her blog post on how she does it:
Hey Ask Your Dad Blog readers, Mom here.
Here’s the thing about “tips." I can give you all the tips, but there’s no telling if it’s going to work for your kid or not. I once read a “tip” somewhere that I needed to get down on my kid’s level to talk when she’s in trouble. I got poked in the eye. So I'm not going to give you tips. I am just going to tell you what kind of works for us. As John and I have always said, this is not an advice blog. This is a place for us to share what works (and what doesn't work) for us and the eye patches that often come with it.
That being said…here are some “tips” for getting our kids to eat.
If there’s anything the duchess has going for her, it’s her willingness to eat. I’ve watched fellow parents beg and plead with their toddler for the love of God, at least LOOK at your chicken!
So far, we've done ok. Here's how (I think) we've done it:
**Disclaimer: if I’ve upset the Toddler Gods with this post and they suddenly strike me down with a completely stubborn eater, I reserve the right to take it down and forevermore deny its existence**
Involve them in as much of the decision making process as possible, as long as it has nothing to do with the food they are going to eat.
What I mean by this is: our kids already seem to have very little control over their lives to begin with. John and I tell them what time to get up, suggest what they wear, where they are going at what time and when to go to bed. Personally, it sounds like a pretty awesome life to me, but I can see how it could be frustrating for a toddler. So I give them some power. Just not the power that they can use to not eat food. Duchess, do you want to set the table? Where do you want to sit? Where should mommy and daddy sit? Which fork would you like? Do you want water or milk? Which cup? All these decisions give her some control over her meal time, which I think it makes her less power-hungry when it comes time to “choose” what to eat.
We also try to involve them in the "choosing what to eat" department. One easy way we do that is to have simple meals on hand that kids can help with and make decisions about. We always have our cupboards stocked with Campbell's soup and have them on display. It's pretty easy to just open the cupboard and say "It's soup night! Which kind should we make?" But you need inflection when you say it. Say it right. "Which kind should we MAKE?" See that? Emphasis on the make. It takes some practice.
What's nice is Campbell's has so many different varieties that it really gives them lots of options and control. And I can know that whichever one they choose, I know I'm giving them something I can trust. I always hope they are going to go for a yummy tomato soup but they just can't pass up the fun shaped noodles in the Star Wars and Frozen varieties. And Captain typically go for the alphabet soup so he can shout out the letters he finds. Though one time we got Chicken NoodleO’s® Soup and he still insisted on shouting every letter he found. It was adorable. At first.
Tell them what they are eating.
As adults we get to look at menus when we go to a restaurant. We get to read everything that is coming in our meal and often, how it is made. When we cook dinner at home, we know what’s going into it and how it was prepared. Kids don’t. They generally just get handed a meal and all they know is what color it is, what it smells like... and if they dare put it in their mouths, what it tastes like.
I try to introduce them to the food they will be eating before it is on their plate in front of them. Sometimes, with simple meals like Campbell's Condensed Soups this involves letting them cook.
Other times it just involves reminding John to bring the ingredients of a meal over and letting them try them while he is cooking. Most of the time it comes down to walking them through everything that is on their plate. This is chicken, these are brussel sprouts, this is rice.
My hope is that this helps them associate one meal with another a little better. Chicken doesn’t always look the same. A chicken breast looks a lot different than chicken strips. If I put chunks of chicken in front of Duchess, she may not know what it is and assume she doesn’t like it. But if I tell her that it’s chicken, she knows she likes chicken, she’ll eat the chicken.
This works 60% of the time every time.
Cut back on the snacking.
This works really well, but is also a tip that John and I are really bad about. When we get home from work and get the kids home from daycare, it’s already pretty late. John has to start cooking right away and I’m on “please make the baby stop following me around crying” duty. So sometimes it’s easier to just let Duchess have a snack if she wants one. But that can often lead to her being less hungry around dinner time.
The way we've tried to remedy this is by having only small and relatively healthy snacks available. In our fridge, we have a pull-out that is just Duchess's height. Her and her brother are allowed to choose whatever they want from it, but only one between school and dinner. We keep yogurt, sliced apples, carrots, raisins and string cheese in there. So at least if she doesn't eat a TON for dinner, we know it’s because she’s already eaten an apple. And that’s fine by us.
Don’t start a war.
This is soooo much easier said than done, but I if we can keep John from going into the aforementioned Beast mode, I've found that dinner disputes generally have positive outcomes.
Going back to my first point, our kids don’t have control over a lot in their world yet, so when they realize that they have control over something, they tend to fight to the death (well not death, time-out) to keep it - even if that means refusing entire meals.
They’re onto us. They know we won’t let them starve. It’s a waiting game that they will always end up winning because we love them and are legally obligated to feed them eventually. I think what happens is that we get so set on them "trying" something that we try to force it. “Try the broccoli, you’ll like it! I promise! I need to you try one bite and you can have dessert. Can you just lick it? I’ll buy you a pony. I'll put the broccoli on a pony. PLEASE??”
For the most part, there is no negotiating in the Kinnear house. If Duchess doesn’t want to try something she doesn’t have to try it. We know eventually she’ll come around to it when she’s in the mood, even with broccoli, and since she knows we aren’t going to force her, she doesn’t get combative about it. I think that makes her more open to trying new foods instead of just jumping on the “NO” bandwagon from the start.
Granted... we don't have a 100% success rate. John may or may not have paid Duchess $5.00 the other night to try salmon. The good news is that salmon is now her favorite food, the bad news is she thinks she gets five bucks every time she eats it. Maybe we'll just stick to soup. We all love soup.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to come find me on my blog Big Awesome Mess, and on the Big Awesome Mess Facebook Page. It is funny like John's blog, but craftier and written by me!