Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about when to push and when to relax when it comes to feeding my kids. When to put in the effort and the extra push, and when to take a deep breath and try to look at the big picture. And it all started with a dress.
On a recent weekday morning, my daughter started sharing very strong feelings about wanting to wear her Christmas dress to school. She’d found it the day before because I didn’t hide it fast enough after it arrived in the mail. At the time of her pleading, I was trying to shower and get myself ready for the day and I quickly realized that I had a choice to make: I could put my foot down and say no to her request because A.) It was a random school day and not the holidays and B.) She was being rude. OR I could decide that her excitement over a new dress was understandable and me making a somewhat arbitrary point about it not being time to wear the dress yet was perhaps hard for a little one to understand. (There was also the fact that I had mistakenly left the dress out where she could see it…so in large part, the whole situation was my fault to begin with.)
I am sure that this will make me sound like a pushover to some, but in the spirit of not having a disaster of a morning, I let her wear the dress. It’s just a dress! Everyone cheered up, the mood instantly lifted, and we had a happy send off.
Which made me think of food and how we respond when our kids don’t want to eat the healthy things we make for them, when we make them. On here and on social media, I try to be transparent about the fact that my kids 100% do not eat everything I give them. They regularly turn down components of our meals, hand unwanted food back to me, or even spit something out if the texture or flavor is off. I consider that to be normal behavior from a child and I, most of the time, don’t let it bother me.
With my oldest daughter, I know that pushing her to eat something she doesn’t want often backfires and makes her push back against me even harder. And I can’t even fathom how I’d make my little one eat something she doesn’t want…she’d just spit it out! But if I have nutritious options in the house and make them available without pushing, particularly for snacks and side dishes, the odds are that they’ll eat something that will help their bodies grow. Often, simply offering two choices empowers them enough to enjoy the food.
The same goes for reasoning with them when they desperately want a certain food. My littlest is in the habit of standing in the kitchen and repeating either “cheese” or “crackers” until someone gets her some food. But that doesn’t mean she gets to decide what she eats—but it also doesn’t mean that I totally ignore her preferences. We have boundaries and structure around meal and snack times and I do my best to incorporate their favorite foods throughout the week. But I’m finding that there are just limits to how much we can control when it comes to feeding our kids, especially once they get into preschool and kindergarten. And trying to hold on too tightly at the table can create stress for everyone involved.
All of this is to say that if mealtimes are stressing you out, change things up.
Instead of aiming for your kids eating everything on their plates, surround them with nutritious options and see what they get excited to eat. One day it might be cheese. Another it could be kiwi. And who knows, one day it might even be broccoli!
Let them serve themselves from family-style plates on the table. You might be surprised at what they choose and I bet they’ll have fun filling their plate!
Rather than forcing them to take a “no thank you” bite (which in my opinion sets them up to say “no thank you”!) give them a flavor challenge and ask to rate the food on a scale of 1-10. Or talk about the colors of food or what it tastes like. Be silly, sing a song, lighten up!
If they don’t like something, ask how you can make it yummier. You might just find out that the reason that they don’t want their cauliflower is simply that the pieces are too big. (Or some other completely random reason!)
And most of all, try not to get too stuck on one meal. Because like the dress, which in the grand scheme of things will not make or break our holiday season, one meal does not a healthy toddler make.
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