Dinner time can be a battlefield. Do you ever find yourself drifting away with nostalgia to dinners for two, sharing loving glances over the table as you discuss the events of the day or the upcoming night together? Only to be abruptly bought back to reality with the impact of a flying brussel sprout that has been tossed defiantly aside by one of your now extended tribe! Yep dinner time was never like this, it has lost its enjoyment and turned into a battle of wills. You know that it could be so much easier to just give them what they want; open a can, packet or bottle and let them go for it. But you are committed to making sure your little ones eat healthy food and develop healthy habits that will set them up for life.
Children are taught these behaviors in relation to food they are not born with them. Give a young Tarzan of the jungle a sweet and he will spit it out in disgust and the intense and foreign taste in the same way your child may react to that Brussel Sprout.
1. It’s not all about the taste!
There are many reasons why your children may dislike brussel sprouts or any food for that matter. It could be the texture, taste, shape, smell, appearance, color, packaging, or presentation. You child may say he dislikes tomatoes but you can ask why is it that he will take tomato sauce in with his sausage, or with a tomato pasta, or as a sweet little baby cherry tomato, or a sun dried tomato on a cracker, or cooked and sliced thinly on the base of his pizza? Challenge and confuse them so they understand that their dislike of a food is specific and not wide ranging. By doing this you will be able to prepare that brussel sprout many different ways that can be more appealing.
2. How to get your kid to eat the eye of a fish
What we covet the most is what is not readily available. Children are no different. By making something special, unavailable, a treat, surprise, reward or for parties only - serves to elevate those particular foods onto a pedestal. We condition our child to want it. You can use this strategy to your benefit. Try making a fuss about a healthy food. Now you will need to choose a food that they have not been exposed to before or is prepared in a way that is unfamiliar to them and has some aspect that they are likely to enjoy. Explain that it is very expensive, a special adult food, something we only have as a treat sometimes, hide it away up high, keep it in a special container, and only give them a small amount of it. Don’t stand there waiting for their response - this gives the game away! If you can do this early enough (3-4 years old) you can have a big impact on their food choices. I once got my 5 year old daughter Sofia, to eat a fish eye by telling her it was the special jelly that they used to eat in the olden days!
3. Why would they eat something they don't like?
Teach children the benefits of foods that exist outside of pleasure. Explain what each type of food will do for them. For example: Cheese loves to look after your teeth. When you eat cheese it will clean your teeth on the outside and then go into your belly, travel all the way up to your teeth and go inside them to make them nice and strong so you can crunch all day long.
My daughter Sofia eats all sorts of food that she does not like. My favorite trick since she was 4 is to get her to eat meat. I will feel her bicep muscles before and after she has eaten it. I explain that the meat travels all the way to her muscle to make her strong, and after she has eaten it I can feel where it is. Then I will feel the other arm and explain that she is unbalanced and that her other arm needs some more meat. I’ll then suggest that she chews on that same side of her mouth and swallow it down to her arm. She then takes the lead and asks me whether it needs any more. I play the same card when it comes to fish. If she forgets something, I’ll be like “Sofia have you eaten any fish recently? You may want to help your brain remember things for you. You know your brain loves it when you feed it fish”
4. Be creative
Make a story out of the foods on a plate. Remember the old airplane to mouth trick? Try something different by creating characters like a witches nose out of a carrot, or bring Olaf from Frozen to life with some mashed potatoes and strategically placed vegetables. Cut a cucumber slice into the shape of a star beside a sliced pumpkin moon shining on a sea of salad leaves below it on the plate. My daughter loves to see her plate of food made into a face. She will eat the tomato eyes first!
5. Be sneaky
Beat them at their own game! Hide vegetables inside other foods. Blend frozen spinach into a berry smoothie. Blend up courgette, onion and tomato into the pasta sauce. Make mince blended up with yesterday's leftover vegetables with cheese sprinkled on top. Once they have finished their plate be sure to ask them about it “what did you enjoy about that meal” “would you like me to make that again?” Get some commitment from them that they actually did not dislike it. Then drop the bombshell and let them know what was in it. “oh you liked that did you…well you must like onion, spinach and garlic then because that is what gave it all that lovely flavor!”
6. It’s not just about what you eat
Create a nice environment for your family to eat their meal. Use special children’s plates and utensils to make it easier for them to eat. Play nice gentle background music. Eat together as a family when you can. Eat at the table. Turn off the TV. Take all distractions away from the dining area like books, toys and animals.
7. Don’t stress
Your child will not have the perfect diet - and they will be ok! We can not expect children to eat the same foods as adults. Our tastes and desires change as we age. Let them enjoy being children. The body that they live in now is not the same body they will grow into. Their body will change and repair and replace itself over time. It is an incredibly resilient and adaptable being which they exist in. They will receive a surprisingly wide range of nutrients from all sorts of different foods they eat. Your only goal should be to help them create good habits with a healthy relationship to food, all sorts of food. That means enjoying eating cake for no reason other than it tastes good, to experience all the elements of food other than taste and to let food be free of emotion, greed and suffering.