As a busy mom of young twin girls, I struggle (as we all do) with getting my kids to eat healthier foods. Allie and Kristy are typical four year olds with demanding personalities and picky eating habits.
Allie only wants to eat white foods: breads, pastas, and cheeses (not yellow cheese, don’t you dare offer her yellow cheese). Anything that might be meat is grounds for immediate regurgitation, and fruits and veggies must be bananas, prunes (of all things), or snap peas only. Kristy will eat meat provided that it’s meatballs or ham, no substitutions (FYI meatloaf is unacceptable, don’t bother explaining that it’s just a big meatball shaped like a football), and will eat carrots when pressed but only if they’ve been buried under ranch dressing or ketchup.
Desperate to get something nutritious in their bellies, and frustrated beyond belief, I instituted two rules for mealtime which my friend runs the Nutritionist Advisor suggested.
First, you must take a “no, thank you” bite. One bite. That’s all I’m asking. Take one bite, then if you don’t like it, I won’t make you eat anymore. If you like it, I will do a happy mommy dance all over the kitchen. It is worth noting that after months of this rule, not one food has gotten a second taste from either one of them. I can’t decide if that’s win or lose. Win: they are trying new foods. Lose: they haven’t actually enjoyed any of them. I guess it’s a wash.
The second rule is “never yuck someone else’s yum.” That means they aren’t allowed to say something tastes terrible, or is yucky or anything negative because it makes the other people at the table who enjoy the food (and possibly slaved over a hot stove to prepare it) feel bad. If you don’t like your “no, thank you” bite, say “no, thank you” and that’s it. It hasn’t been a big drama when they don’t like something, no faces or hysterics, just “no, thank you” and then we move on.
So mealtime improved, simply because the girls aren’t putting on Oscar-worthy performances every night, but their actual food intake was the same. The next step was radical snack policy modification. I confess, I am sometimes too permissive with snacks, especially if I’m trying to buy time because dinner is late or some other life obstacle is competing with a proper eating habits. So I put a strict snack schedule into effect and refused to let them snack off-schedule which helped them to be hungry at meal time, but still, I couldn’t get more than the smallest sampling of veggies into their mouths.
Then, while trying to get dinner on the table (late, of course) the girls were complaining that they were hungry. My husband, who was busy making salad (for us, obviously, the kids weren’t going to eat it), threw a pile of green pepper strips, and celery and carrot sticks on a plate with some hummus and said they could eat that or wait until dinner… and they did. It was like bird-watching. My husband and I were afraid to move or draw attention for fear we might spook them and never duplicate this experiment again.
Allie ate carrots and celery (no hummus, but still totally a win) and Kristy had a bit of everything including finger-fulls of straight hummus. We’ll work on the “no double dipping” rule another time. Whether it was the lack of other options that day or the phase of the moon, I don’t know, but for a moment, there was progress. I don’t plan on quitting my day job to get into pediatric nutrition or anything, but I have to say, I was a bit proud of myself tackling this issue head-on and the results that followed.