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6 Food Mistakes Parents Make

Two weeks ago an article on the New York Times website caught my eye, and I have not been able to stop thinking about it since. 6 Food Mistakes Parents Make” lists common sense food errors parents make when trying to get kids to eat healthy.  Are these really “mistakes” we make with our kids?  Are you guilty of any (or most – like me)?  With a laissez-faire attitude, do kids eventually branch out and become less fussy?  Or, do healthy habits need to be diligently developed?

It is not just Ms. Parker-Pope’s article that talks about involving kids in the actual cooking process.  Experts agree that children who participate in the preparing of the meals are for the most part more interested in eating those meals.  Keeping kids out of the kitchen is not something I try to arrange.  Yet most nights I find myself cooking alone.  Oh, I have helpers when I make homemade pizza (thanks to Trader Joe’s for the ready-made dough) and Mac and Cheese (Jackie at KidsDish introduced me to a yummy one my son will actually eat).  But what I need to be doing is having my kids help throw vegetables into homemade soup, salads or a stir-fry (all foods not current in their repertoire). 

Speaking of the V word, I am guilty of another of the food mistakes: serving boring vegetables.  I am convinced my children were poisoned by vegetables in another lifetime because they both are so careful to stay as far away from any form of one now!  It has taken me nearly a year to get them eating carrot and cucumber sticks – and I label that a huge success.  They recently ate green beans (about a tablespoon’s worth with a bit of butter) but I think we need that to happen a few more times before we can count that as “success.”

Truly, the only way I have had success with any vegetable at all is to make another of the food mistakes: pressuring them to take a bite.  This is one I agree with in theory but not in practice.  In theory I get it, I really do.  In practice, my children have gone YEARS without any interest in taking even the smallest nibble of a vegetable (again, must have been poisoned – it is all I can think of).  The ONLY way I finally got them to take a bite of a carrot stick was to say, “Well, listen to your tummies.  If you are full, then you should stop eating, but if you are interested in having a little dessert tonight, you will need to have at least 1 carrot stick.”  I know, I know – I’m the worst of the worst.  But you know what?  It worked!  For the first time ever, they tried it. 

Someone might scold me: “You are putting more value on dessert than on the vegetables.”  All I can say is the vegetables were not being eaten.  Ever.  Not once.  My children are as neophobic as it comes – except when it comes to sweets.  We are a pretty healthy household in terms of not having a lot “junk” around.  They are not deprived of it – again, I believe in moderation, but we try to make healthy choices as much as possible.  Yet, show my kids a piece of chocolate they have never seen, or weird-shaped candy, or a different flavor of ice cream and they will try it – without being asked twice.  Celery sticks with peanut butter – no way!  Broccoli trees with a dip – forget about it!   But a sweet they have never tried before – bring it on!  All of a sudden they are adventurous beyond belief.  So this alleged value was already there – I am just using it to my advantage to get them to try things they won’t on their own.   

Is this really a huge food mistake?  I hope not.  I do know they were not willing to even TRY the green beans until I said my little thing about dessert.  Grudgingly, they each took a bite.  Said they hated them – ick!  I said that was fine, but if they wanted dessert that night they needed to take 3 bites.  The second bite went down a bit better – they both admitted they weren’t SO bad.  By the third bite, they said they liked them!  My daughter went on to eat 5 bites in all.  From no way (!!!) to yuck, to hey – green beans are ok.  To me that is HUGE. 

Like many mothers of picky eaters, I admit I often always give up too soon.  Not only do I get discouraged, I feel it becomes a big waste of food.  But I am slowly realizing that if I don’t stick with it, nothing will change – and I refuse to be talking about taking 3 bites when they are 10!

I am hoping I can get to place where I serve healthy food and if my children don’t eat it, then that is their choice.  But for us, I would rather do this gradually, then just go at it cold turkey. (Is that smart – or just plain lazy??)  Ultimately, this Zen Mama Wannabe is trying to teach them healthy eating habits that will serve them well for the rest of their life. We just seem off to a rather slow start.

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One Response to “6 Food Mistakes Parents Make”

  1. callieandbatido Says:
    October 9th, 2008 at 9:03 am

    I have suffered over the very same issues since my daughter was born 14 years ago! They say that with age comes wisdom and I have finally gotten wise. When I stopped fretting over what my girls would and would not eat and stopped jumping through hoops to entice their picky preferences, a miracle happened. They started eating what was put in front of them.

    Not always happily I assure you but they did eat. None of the food groups are optional anymore. They will and do eat vegetables. I am the queen of “if you want dessert then you have to eat your meal” and your right, it works! I am careful to have something at each meal that each of my daughters like and I don’t give them very big portions of the things they don’t like.

    My non meat eater does not have to eat meat but she does have to eat protein. I offer choices at breakfast and lunch but no longer at dinner. We can’t make kids eat but we can control what we serve them. Their willingness to only eat kid friendly foods comes from the fact that we are willing to make it for them.

    I have not eliminated the favorite kid friendly foods they love, I have just moved those foods to lunches and kids pick dinner. And the other miracle….they have found so many new foods they actually do like. What took me so long to wise up?!

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