Feeding kids is rough!
I frequently get questions from parents about how to achieve healthy, stress-free child feeding. In other words, “How do I get my kids to eat vegetables?!”
Fear no more! I used my own 3 children to develop a system for gently and progressively developing children into healthy eaters. My goal is never for kids to have a ‘perfect’ diet. The goal is to teach them to develop a broad palate for healthy foods and an overall balanced, healthy diet.
Unfortunately, achieving this isn’t easy. I frequently see kids on junk food diets. Their parents have a hard time getting on board with making healthy food for themselves because they’re busy cooking junk food for their kids!
Let me assure you , it’s possible to get your kids to eat healthy food without a lot of screaming or crying. I’ve figured out a method that has worked for all 3 of my boys. Last night we sat down to a dinner of salmon, stir fried kale with radishes, couscous, and fruit. The kids all ate it.
So, let me share my secrets with you: the system that I use daily in practice to help my patients achieve a calm, healthy food life at home.
Here’s my 5-Step Process for Gentle, Healthy Child Feeding:
1. Start with breastfeeding.
- Ages birth – weaning (at least 12 months ideally)
- Learn more details (and get support) at: (https://lllusa.org/ )
- Also check out my favorite breastfeeding guide book:
2. Then, baby led weaning
- Ages 6 months – 18 months
- Start and continue solids without baby food using the Baby Led Weaning technique. Learn more at: (http://www.babyledweaning.com/ )
- Also check out my favorite BLW guide book:
3. Then, survive the toddler doldrums.
Ages 1-3: Put out healthy food around the house and pray. 😉
4. The Secret Sauce: The Skinner Method
I call it the ‘Skinner method’ because I don’t know any other families that do this.
I started doing this after following the modern advice of putting healthy food in front of my kids and letting them decide. It was going in the trash untouched. Then, I read a study where they found that kids need to taste a food 11 times on average before they accept it. So, I realized I needed to go old school and get my kids to actually taste it. So, I’ll tell you how it works:
First of all, let me explain MOST CRITICAL part of my feeding strategy: it’s an idea from Ellyn Satter and her book is called ‘How to Get Your Child to Eat, But Not Too Much’:
The idea is the division of responsibility: it’s the parent’s responsibility to prepare a reasonable and healthy meal. It’s the kids responsibility to decide whether or not they eat. Any extra cooking, alternative meals, special snacks, etc. totally violate this division.
So, first of all the requirement for this method is that you’re cooking a healthy dinner each night that isn’t spicy or dangerous for kids. It should be the same food for everyone.
Then, basically what we do is put a little bit of every food on the kids plate. They have to eat one bite of each to be done with dinner. Just a bite. The point of this is to build their palate. It works great. Over time, my kids have grown to accept and eat any kind of food – fruits, vegetables, meat, etc.
Now, this is the even more controversial part: I do let them finish their whole meal if they want to get dessert. Dessert is usually a piece of candy out of their Halloween bag or something like that. It’s February now and we still have a big bag of candy left! So, it’s not like my kids eat a lot of candy. However, I do want to incentivize them to finish their food because dinner is generally the healthiest meal of their day. I intentionally give them a very reasonable amount of foods so that it’s not a stretch for them to finish it.(Another tip: they need to stop eating at least 2 hours before dinner so that thy’’re hungry).
If the kids don’t finish their dinner, that’s fine… but they don’t get any more food for the night.
I do usually either plate or help plate my kids food from around ages 3-5.
5. Family Style
Finally, we move into phase 5 which is ‘family style’. I put the cooked food out on the table for my kids and they make their own plate. Phase 4 still applies. They still know they have to eat one bite of everything. If they want a little treat after dinner, they will ask me if they got enough of everything to earn that. I agree, they eat it, we’re good.
Is It Too Late For My Kids?!
So, what to do if your kid is already 8? Or 12? OR 15? Have you missed it? No! Read the Satter book and start today with building their palate.
Meal plan healthy diners and get your kid to eat just one bite of everything each night. Maybe you do that for a year – don’t rush it. You’ll be amazed how fast your child will be willing to eat more variety. Then, start weaning off the processed foods and remember that division of responsibility: it’s their job to decide if they eat it but that’s the only option.
I know it sounds harsh but, in my opinion, it’s more harsh to risk your child’s health by letting them eat a nutritionally poor diet. I hope this helps and, of course, please get in touch with any questions you have!
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