My thoughts

Picky eaters and food

Yes, we eat this “weird” foods.
This is sardines in extra virgin olive oil
It’s not usual I write two posts in a day, but they are answers to questions my friends have and that may help others, so instead of leaving a comment I’m going to answer with a post.

At home my daughters have always been pretty good eaters, but on and off they’ll have a time when their habits decline and they seem to be pickier than usual.

A good nutrition and good eating habits are not something desired in isolation, they are important to me as an adult, and they make up for our intellectual, physical and even spiritual development. They are such an intricate part of what we are and how we approach life. Being a healthy eater is a sign of discipline, habit, consistency, and it helps us so much with our whole health.

To the practical points. I’m going to list what we do and don’t as clearly as possible, and give some explanations as to why:

* You can’t MAKE a child eat. That’s, as I read in a blog, a co-dependent tactic. We beg, we nudge, push, blackmail, still they refuse, we end up giving in because they “need nourishment”, we “have to” allow them to eat something in the course of that long battle to make them eat, or they’ll starve or not be nourished well, we reason, so we offer substitutes. WRONG. It’s our job to have the healthiest food possible (with allowances and exceptions), it’s their job to eat it.

* I don’t and haven’t cooked KIDS MEALS, and GROWN UP MEALS. What’s good for us it’s good for them in general. (I don’t mean here they have to eat our sushi, it’s fine if they choose pizza that day).

* I don’t offer substitutions. This is another manipulation that we allow unconsciously. I know some accept substitutions on the name of the child getting something to eat. But don’t offer them, and sooner than you expect they will eat some of what’s being served.

* I don’t force them to eat everything on their plate. From what’s been served they can choose to some degree. I mean, they can leave one veggie out, and they don’t have to eat a big portion. I encourage them to try the new things, I ask them to try before they refuse it though.

* If there is by any chance any ‘dessert’ (even if it’s a piece of fruit), I don’t let them have it unless they ate most of what they committed from the main course.

* I do not offer them snacks. And if we do snack at all, I don’t let the picky eater have any.

* I present them with the same food they didn’t eat at the next appointed time if possible. If not, they can’t as I said have snacks, back to square one, they need to eat what’s offered at the main meal.

* I never ask if they are hungry. They need to learn to listen to their body. If they cry or fuss and I offer food, they will eat emotionally for comfort instead of for nourishment. Many of us eat for pleasure, but we need not to eat to calm our anxiety or we’ll learn to eat like a yo-yo and this can derive in eating disorders as grown ups. I do eat emotionally at times when my PMS kills me and I have a frantic desire for chocolate or chips, or both. My husband eats more and bad when he is stressed at work. We are humans, but knowing this helps us restrain from falling in the trap and will again help us model healthy eating to our children.

* I model with example. I’m not a person that doesn’t give them snacks and indulges on an ice cream pint while blogging. Well, that was easy, for ice cream doesn’t tempt me as much…I don’t blog with a bag of chips by my side…ok, ok, I’ve done that, but I promise it’s not even once a month.

* I’m not perfect. There’s been times in my life that they’ve been feeding themselves cheerios while I was planning, researching, or busy cleaning and decorating…or editing pictures 😉

* If they are going through a picky phase, I’m truly mean, I don’t let them eat sweets or cake at birthday parties, snacks, substitutions…I get down hard for a few days, and it always works, they start devouring their meals.

* I don’t force them to finish the “fries”, or chicken nuggets, or anything, but specially that which is not healthy (btw, after watching the film Super Size Me, my husband and I have pledged to not feed the kids plastic poisonous nuggets from McD)

* We only drink water and maybe some milk, but not a lot, milk and juice makes their tummy full and they have more resistance to what they don’t like or want to try until the next yummy snack or meal comes. This is a kids comfort and weapon to resist meals. Do not think of milk as nutrition. The calcium and protein can be very easily eaten in many different things we all cook and serve. Actually, when children don’t have a milky tummy, they will surprisingly attack salads.

It’s been a proven fact at home that my girls will try everything possible to delay naps, going to bed, doing chores, leaving a park, etc. So I do try (not always with success, I’m working an all the points mentioned) not to please them with food or water. They need to learn to ask for it during the meals or at times when we are not transitioning but engaged in play, work, or whatever the activity.

* I do not let them eat in front of the TV (we don’t have cable, but when they are watching a movie), or computer. I do not let them take food all around the house, the park, or any place we are.

* We are working on having them sit at the three meals, ask to be excused, and not leave the table. (Specially the youngest has a hard time with this).

* Not watching TV commercials helps tremendously not to be exposed to junk food advertised that I won’t be that strong to resist. I rather alleviate myself from that added worry.

Even if our snacks are healthy, children can get used to those and develop a resistance for our meals. If you don’t have much cooked, make the snacks your meal, but sit and make them internalize those schedules of making three meals. Of course situations and circumstances not always allow us to follow all these points. Usually lots of parties, celebrations, birthdays, etc, throw our habits a bit off the window and we have to start all over. It’s the same with computer usage, movie watching…we spend most of our weeks with almost none and there are times when this goes a bit down the slope, so back to enforcing good habits. And most of us, moms, believe they need more than they do. If we have offered some food and they didn’t touch it, and later they ask for something that is healthy, we usually think it’s fine to give it. I have done that and still do it even unconsciously, after all, they are asking for something healthy, right? …Offer what they left, or nothing at all until the next meal. Or they can be mostly eating healthy snacks, which to me it’s still an unhealthy habit.

I may be very mean, but I don’t always believe my children. The girls would say they have a head ache for example, and not be true. They don’t say that much anymore because every time they say I have a headache or a stomachache I just tell them that will go away once you start working, or you eat your next meal, and it surprisingly goes away. I don’t always believe them when they say they are hungry. And if they are, sorry, you’ll wait till food is provided. But please, don’t call child services, for I cook and feed my family to my best ability, and I even give them a piece of candy once every year, ha ha ha. What I mean it’s that I know if they are a bit hungry since they didn’t eat very well their last meal, or if they would rather have some food as a distraction.

We are food lovers at home. Right now my husband is exercising (yay!) and watching what he eats. Specially outside the home. I truly enjoy things like chips, some bread to dunk in coffee, I love nuts and some desserts, but I try to be of an example and have a balanced diet and exercise almost every day for 30 minutes. I have that joke that I eat and my husband puts the weight on. That’s our metabolism, our genes. We have our indulgences at times, but I don’t want the girls growing with that spirit of  lack of control to be present every day, and believe me, in our day and age it’s easy to fall into this category. I’m not a food nazi, we bake cookies with friends and by ourselves, we have things that are not 100 percent healthy. Dad buys them a chocolate here and there, etc. But it’s my job to be the police, LOL. (Same with other things like music, mom classical, dad Bruce Dickinson). I try as much as I can to have healthy eating habits. And I only have to say that we are very fortunate because they very randomly get sick. (Just watch out, they will after this post just to humble me! 😉



7 thoughts on “Picky eaters and food”

  1. Thanks, Chrissy, I'm a work in progress, I need to go back to my own advice many times in the year. It's easier to write about it than to do it 😉
    But knowing these principles helps me when something starts to go down the slope.

    You know, two years ago in a hs convention, I attended a workshop on nutrition that left me profoundly depressed…I did not eat as healthy as the lady said…but then I put myself together again and started to do one thing at a time. Improve one bad habit you may have one thing at a time and we'll get there. At least, being home with them, and the fact that we COOK, versus eating cafeteria food all the time, and no meals with the family, etc. will account for some positive impact, even if we have our moments and things we fall short at.


  2. Some really sensible ideas here, some we do already and some we may well put in place if there is a fussy turn.

    There is only one area that we diverge on. From the time they were little I've given my girls a piece of chocolate (good n dark)every day. It came regardless of their behaviour, or eating habits (we're talking a taste, not enough to fill a small tummy) and it came with a kiss. I don't often have to leave them with some else, but if I do, I can leave them with some chocolate, “mamma's chocolate kisses”.

    The idea came from Nancy Taylor (When Love is Not Enough) and the fact that breast milk is sweet and sweetness is linked to a mother's love. I figured I was going to just give them a teeny treat because I loved them. They seem to be okay on it!


  3. Shona, I don't think that's so opposite to what I tried to convey. We all have some traditions, as your chocolate thing, and it seems as a “sweet” thing to do.
    There may be many divergences in thought that if explained in context I'll say they make sense, even if they say something different.
    I'm not being relativistic here, but more sensitive to different children needs and stages.
    Heather and I talked yesterday about this, and for her she is fine with giving substitutions at the evening with her son who is not yet three. She won't do that with her daughter who is five. I don't have rules written on stone, I just hurt to see parents that do not have at least the try to feed their children and themselves healthy, and who fall into the unhealthy food habits and traps badly. Most of us who cook, feed them sensitively (with our limitations but trying to learn), and who try to establish good habits. I just wanted to help someone when they go through a phase with things that work for us. 😉


  4. The baby and her brother love to eat carrot sticks and they are really good – the real carrots, not the baby ones, seem to be sweeter too. I eat them and tell the kids they are so sweet and I'm being honest because if you chew up a carrot in your mouth a bit you'll taste the sweetness! 🙂 So while we bake cookies probably once a week (at least they are homemade!) we will at least have carrots pretty regularly. I'm so bad about making rules for myself, though – I know I'll fail and feel guilty so we try to do our best and like you said do one thing at a time. 🙂


  5. Yes, Kim. You do great, you are such a great cook and homemaker. Do never feel bad but always take a step at a time. I don't write the rules on stone, they are always evolving. I do better at some times than others. That about carrots is so sweet. Homemade food is far better than eating out in most restaurants, not even counting fast food…but we do what we can. Never compare, take advice as a grain of salt, do not believe we do everything every day (we don't), just see how you do comparing to yourself. Set up a humble goal at a time and you'll get to your goal 🙂


  6. The baby and her brother love to eat carrot sticks and they are really good – the real carrots, not the baby ones, seem to be sweeter too. I eat them and tell the kids they are so sweet and I'm being honest because if you chew up a carrot in your mouth a bit you'll taste the sweetness! 🙂 So while we bake cookies probably once a week (at least they are homemade!) we will at least have carrots pretty regularly. I'm so bad about making rules for myself, though – I know I'll fail and feel guilty so we try to do our best and like you said do one thing at a time. 🙂


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