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*First, I’d like to thank Kathlene Carney, the publicist for Food Fight, for sending the book to me. While the book was a gift, all opinions are my own.*
My son, who is almost a year old, wanted more of a say in what he eats. He told me this by throwing food on the ground, refusing to eat what I offered him, and pointing at other food he could see. This stressed me out, because the foods I offered were healthy foods that his body needed.
My Initial Approach
Feeling like I was doing what’s best for him, I pulled out some tricks to get him to eat. I tried to make meals more fun by being silly and talking with him. I would say, “Mmm!” while holding out a spoonful. As if that would convince him that he liked the food. I tried doing a little cheer each time he took a bite. I would give him a Cheerio (his favorite snack) after he took a bite of his puree. I also started giving him closed-ended choices. I held out two vegetable purees. He tried to grab one, and I fed him some of it. If he pointed at a different food to show me he wanted it, I offered his two choices again.
My worry intensified as he gradually became more difficult to feed.
Thankfully, the book Food Fight by Chef Gigi Gaggero came into my life at this point. In the beginning of her book, she discusses the common strategies parents use to get kids to eat: bribery, threatening, coaxing, disguising foods, and the one bite rule. She explains why each of these either won’t work, or will come back to bite us and make the meal problem even worse!
I had definitely been coaxing my son. And even though I know that reward systems don’t work in the long term, I had bribed him because I felt desperate. Shame on me. I was setting myself up for failure. Big problems begin in small ways! Thankfully, I have some new, effective ways to help my son eat now.
So what does work?
Chef Gigi gives lots of ideas for helping kids develop positive eating habits throughout her book. First, we need to relax a little. Kids will eat when they are hungry. Our job as parents is to provide healthy choices and a positive environment. Here are some of the ways Chef Gigi says we can help our kids.
This is the only tactic I naturally tried that will work in the long term. Children crave control. They are much more compliant in all areas if they have some control over their lives. By offering close-ended choices, we can meet that need. We can offer choices like: apple or orange, peas or carrots, yogurt or milk?
Make yummy food!
This seems obvious, but it was actually a wake-up call for me. At almost a year old, my son is getting tired of the purees. They’re bland! He’s excited to try more advanced foods, and I should encourage that! I’ve been more thoughtful about the foods I give him lately. I try to make meals for myself that I can share with him. I’ve also been letting him be more independent in eating. He holds the spoon more often, and I offer finger foods frequently.
Chef Gigi gives lots of tips throughout her book for how we can make delicious yet simple recipes that most kids will love like green eggs and ham, homemade (and healthier) macaroni and cheese, and french toast muffins. In fact, there are over 60 recipes in the book!
Have fun during meals
This is different than coaxing. Instead of trying to entertain our kids into eating a bite of food, we can add some fun elements simply to make our kids look forward to coming to the table. Chef Gigi makes it clear that we don’t need to make this a habit. Rather, every so often, it’s nice to add a little more pizzaz to meals. I can’t even scratch the surface of all the ideas offered in the book, but here are a few: use cookie cutters to add fun shapes to cheese and sandwiches, involve the kids in the cooking, or serve the food on their play dishes.
Kids want to be like the adults in their lives. What we do is much more important that what we say. If they see us eating and enjoying healthy foods, they are more likely to try eating these foods themselves. Along these lines, we should avoid talking negatively about foods.
Understand Child Development
I was so stressed about what and how much my son was eating because I want to make sure he has the nutrients he needs to grow! I’m sure many other parents feel the same way. I was shocked to learn the appropriate serving sizes for kids.
“Become familiar with toddler-size portions. An effective rule of thumb is: one tablespoon per year of age = one portion. Example: One tablespoon of peas is a serving for a one-year old.”
Doesn’t that take some of the stress away? I felt so much pressure lift when I read it. Of course it’s important to watch our kids and give them more if they want it, but I think most of us overestimate the food needs of toddlers!
Food Fight is an incredible resource. I’ve only given a small glimpse of all the great ideas in the book. I love that Chef Gigi focuses on positive parenting techniques rather than gimmicks. I’ll be referring back to the book frequently for meal and snack ideas, as well as reminders of what I should expect at various ages. I’m looking forward to much more pleasant mealtimes now that I’ve read it.
What have you done to improve meal times in your home? Have you tried any of the ideas I listed from Food Fight?