1. Offer a variety of healthy foods and the child will, eventually, eat when he's hungry. (So don't stress if he skips a meal.)
2. Don't use food as a reward. (So don't say, "Eat two more bites of dinner and you can have a treat.")
3. Eliminate the phrase "Clean Plate Club" from your vocabulary. (Teach your child to eat until he is satisfied, not until all of the food is gone.)
We know them. But, man, do I suck at following them.
We have struggled with "Evan and food" since he had his anaphylactic reaction to milk at 10 months old. Because he was severely allergic to dairy (simply touching crumbs from a Goldfish cracker was enough to produce full-body hives) and peanuts (reactivity unknown), as well as being moderately allergic to ELEVEN other foods, we were pretty particular about the food that he ate and even with which he had contact.
I was on high alert around food all the time.
He's outgrown almost all of his allergies (except for milk and peanuts) but his diet hasn't expanded the way we had hoped it might. Evan has some pretty significant sensory issues when it came to food. Even at six and a half years old, he has yet to ever put a cooked noodle into his mouth. Rice? Forget it. Cereal with (hemp) milk? Never. I'm pretty sure his taste and smell senses are set to Max Power because he can sniff out the tiniest bit of sauce or seasoning from a mile away. And reject it.
He's also been at the very bottom of the weight scale since he was a year old. He's super duper skinny. He's "chicken-legs skinny." He's like me. I was so skinny as a kid that this one mean girl used to tell me that I looked like the orphans they show on TV. She said that kids, like me, who are skinny grow up to be fat grown-ups so I better not get too skinny which, she went on to say, I already was.
And it's not just kids who can be insensitive about the "s" word....When I was nursing my food-allergic baby, so following his same restricted diet, I lost all of my baby weight--and then some, way too fast. The comments I heard from people telling me that I looked sick, that I can't possibly take care of a baby if I'm not first taking care of myself, etc. were pretty shocking. One person said, "You probably have Celiac's [sic]. Just look at you." Wow.
So, I do stress when he skips a meal. (I'm pretty sure he would survive on a daily diet of a waffle, a banana, and four pretzels if we let him.)
We do make him eat his meal before having his treat. (We mostly say, "If you're not hungry for dinner then you can't possibly be hungry for a treat." But we've been known to say the bit about "more bites.")
And, man do we ever make a huge deal over his rare clean plate. (We say things like, "Wow! Great job nourishing your body, bud!" or "You sure were hungry--your brain and muscles must be growing!" but it's the same thing as that stupid club, really.)
I've hit numerous low points, where I know I'm making a bigger deal of food and eating than I should....like....[Confession Time]....when I told him he couldn't watch Lego videos on the iPad until he finished his smoothie. Yup. That was Thursday afternoon after a week of full lunch boxes and hardly-touched dinners. It probably violated every Healthy Eating rule out there, but you know what? It worked. On both Thursday and Friday afternoons, Evan (reluctantly) gulped down a spinach/berry/yogurt-packed smoothie AND ate dinner. Sometimes I think he lets his tummy get so empty that he doesn't even know when he does feel hungry. I find that the more I
So...sorry, not sorry, Food Rules. I'm rewriting you (for this kid and for this moment, anyway):
1. I will offer Evan a variety of healthy foods and he will, eventually, eat when he's hungry. And if he doesn't, I will withhold screen time until he downs a smoothie.
2. I won't use food as a reward, unless I've hidden beets in those chocolate muffins, then he can have one after he eats three more bites of chicken (which I have already scraped clean of the sauce).
3. I will eliminate the phrase "Clean Plate Club" from our vocabulary. Okay, this Rule can stay. We don't have a members-only policy at our dinner table...but you can bet there's a
secret handshake high five or two exchanged when our bodies are filled with goodness.
We don't comment on size or appearance except to say "Look how much you've grown!" when comparing marks on our growth chart. (And the occasional "People come in all different shapes and sizes" response to an embarrassingly observant 3-year old's comment in line at Target.)
We do comment on what different foods do for our bodies...we identify parts of our meals as fruits, veggies, grains, protein, and "extras" (ketchup!). We talk about the vitamins and nutrients found in different foods and why it's important to have some of each.
We don't force them to eat. If Evan does not prefer to eat the roasted broccoli on his plate, he can choose carrot sticks from the veggies and hummus plate in the center of the table. If that means that the only veggie he EVER eats is carrots, so be it. (That's why scientists invented smoothies and hiding veggies in muffins.)
We do know that, eventually, even the pickiest eater will come around and enjoy a more well-rounded and balanced diet....and if he doesn't, then at least by then he'll be in charge of cooking for himself and I won't have to hear about it.
Off to make some smoothies!