My No-Nonsense Strategy for Picky Eaters

I have been asked more and more these days, partly because of my participation at 30 Day Vegan, about picky eaters. What we did as a family and if I have any tips or tricks to share.

I have shared my parenting experience in this matter in face to face conversations with those who exclaim, "What good eaters your kids are!" And I have also left a fair number of comments on (mommy blogger) blog posts. You know those posts, the ones where mamas discuss clever strategies for how to get kids to eat vegetables.

But I have been avoiding writing about this topic here at FIMBY. 

It's quite easy for me to leave my opinion (on possibly contentious issues) sprinkled here and there, on other people's blogs. It's another matter entirely for me to post my thoughts on my own blog, opening myself up to criticism for being a mean mother (I prefer the label bad ass).

Here's the reason for my insecurity in writing about this. I'm a no-nonsense mother. A bit of a traditionalist (ESTJ, if you must know) - no sassing, no whining, eat your veggies. That sort of thing.

I'm afraid you'll interpret that as "bad mother", certainly not very politically correct or attachment-ish. 

I have one more fear to share with you (sigh). I'm afraid that by telling you our family's approach to this subject you'll think I'm passing judgement on you if your kids are picky. So know this - I'm not.

Each family needs to do what works for them, make their own household rules, and live according to their values. In case you needed that permission (smile).

So now that I've cleared everyone from the room, or at least had you squirm in your seats as I reveal my mothering insecurities, let's get to the nitty gritty of the topic.

What I'm going to share with you is what our family has done. It is not my perscription for picky eaters and in fact if your children are older this probably won't work. This advice, or rather experience, is more useful for families with wee ones - the age at which we addressed the picky eater issue.

When Celine (now 12) was a baby, and probably even before that, we determined that we (Damien and I are on the same page) were not going to have a family restaurant. By restaurant I mean we were not going to offer children different food from what the adults were eating.

Looking around the world at what people eat it was clear to me that children will eat whatever their "norm" is. Spicy foods in Asia, insects, grubs, little rodents(?) in the Amazon, cow blood in certain African tribes. We're talking some weird stuff from the North American perspective.

Let's talk choice for a minute (never mind the lack of "food groups" in these cultures). Many children around the world have no choice about what to eat. There is either very little variety or very little to eat. Period. 

And here we are wringing our hands and writing books about how to get kids to eat vegetables?

Eating what's served

We decided that in our home what is served is what is available to eat.

When we sit down to eat a family meal, you get to eat what's on the table, whether you're 2, 12, 42. Damien regularly adds more frozen vegetables to his meal but I don't consider this a problem.

If you don't like supper you're not offered crackers from pantry. Or toast and peanut butter because "this isn't junior's favorite". And you certainly don't get served the frozen un-chicken nuggets kept in freezer, "just in case the kids don't like this meal".

So here's the question. If our kids didn't like the meal what's to stop them from holding out till snack time when they could eat that toast and peanut butter? (Back when toast was served for snack. Nowadays snack is one of these options).

Here's how we addressed that. If one of our children refused to eat something (almost always it was a supper meal - some kind of mushy soup or stew) that was fine. There was no pleading, whining, yelling, cajoling, punishment or consequences. We smiled and said, "you can eat it when you're hungry". And we meant it.

The food went into the fridge and re-appeared at snack or the next meal, whichever was first. In fact, that same food kept showing up until they ate it.

Somewhere between the age of 18 months to 3.5 years old each of our children walked up to edge of this family food rule and tested it. Two of our children "fasted", obviously they were drinking water, for a day before they decided it was a losing battle. They ate the two tablespoons (which is all it was when they were this little) of whatever the offending food was and gladly moved on to more palatable (to them) fare.

I only recall having to do this once with each child. Of course, memory probably fails me and we might have had to do this twice. But our children knew that when we said "no other food till you finish this serving" we meant it.

By the time Brienne came along, our most strong willed child, the stage was set. The older children, and of course us as parents, modeled the expected behavior. Interestingly, Brienne had the most sensitive gag reflex and those mushy veggies were never her favorite. But to see her now at age 8, scarfing down eggplant un-parmigan, zucchini stir fry, etc. you never would know.

Keep in mind our children were very young when we laid this foundation. We were serving them tablespoons of food. If they didn't particularly like something there was only a couple tablespoons to eat, which they learned tasted better the first time it appeared.

Giving our kids a bit of choice

I'm not totally a mean mother. We do give our kids some choice. Because our meals almost always feature a variety of veggies, mostly all served together in one pot, we allow our kids to remove one veggie variety they don't like.

And because I know my kids don't particularly like mushy veggies (ie: zucchini) I do my best to cook meals that don't include all mushy veggies.

Laurent has never liked fresh tomatoes. Brienne is just leaving the zucchini dislike stage. Eggplant has never been popular but the tide is starting to turn on that one also.

They were, and still are, allowed to leave one thing that they absolutely don't like. Granted nowadays, at 12, 10 & 8, they rarely leave anything and will eat heaps and heaps of beans, grains, veggies, whatever is served.

Celine has never been a picky eater but I very clearly recall the lentil soup fast she took. We laugh about it now as she heartily eats and enjoys all manner of legumes.

I can honestly say we have not had many food battles. We didn't allow food to become a battle zone in our house. "This is supper, this is what you eat" was pretty much our philosophy.

With regards to other meals, it's much the same, with the exception of breakfast. Currently Celine (12) often makes her own breakfast with fruits and nuts because she doesn't like soft cooked grains, like oatmeal (we eat lots of hot cereal).

As the kids have grown there are some meals they don't eat as much of, but they eat what I cook (or this summer, eat what Nana cooks). There is also a lot of variety in our meals because I like to experiment and don't like to exactly follow recipes. Chances are if you didn't like tonight's meal I probably won't repeat it.

I have always tried to make food my family will enjoy, not just choke down. It's not like I'm thinking, "ha, ha, let's load this entree with zucchini and watch my children gag". I love it when my family raves over a meal I make. But I determined long ago I wasn't going to be a short order cook just to keep the troops happy.

I like what Jennifer at Kidoing has to say about the feeding kids and her rebuttal to getting kids to eat veggies. I asked her to share a bit of her philosophy here at FIMBY. This is what she has to say:

I treat my kids as people when cooking for them...not their own species! They eat almost anything I put in front of them when it's cooked with fresh wholesome ingredients and lots of love. Of course, there are always exceptions, but who doesn't have an off day when you just don't feel like eating what's on your plate? Cooking (and eating) in our home is enjoyable and a top priority every day.

Love it. I also really like what Erika from Mud Spice says about how to get your kids to eat vegetables. I agree, if they are really hungry, they'll eat. 

A few last thoughts on raising hearty eaters:

  • If one of the adults of the household is picky eater you can expect the kids to follow suit. So much about what we want to teach our kids is modeled, not spoken. Neither Damien or I are picky eaters. Damien has always eaten, and never complained (the same cannot be said for me), about a meal I've cooked. And I've cooked some "interesting" stuff.
  • I don't believe in hiding veggies from my kids. We enjoy sauces, smoothies, etc.. but not as a way to "mask" an offending fruit or vegetable.
  • I don't make veggies fun. Veggies, like other foods are just that, food. I like to cook with intention and love and prepare my family's favorites but except for the odd snowman pancake I don't dress up food as fun or un-fun.
  • When my children were too young to dish up their own meal (now they serve themselves and are expected to eat what they dish up) I didn't serve them large portions of food I knew they disliked. We wanted to set our kids up for success, not failure. And of course none of this applies to when kids are sick, when their appetites are low or they're throwing up all the time (in case you were worried).
  • If I make something really weird and wacky (outside their normal grid) we always give our kids the option to eat just the blandest part of that. For example, serving sushi the first time I probably offered the kids plain ol' rice and tofu. Though, for as long as I can recall my kids have eaten sushi like there is no tomorrow.
  • If you are changing your family diet with older children this article I wrote on helping children embrace lifestyle change might be useful.
  • My kids have been in the kitchen and garden with me from the very start. They know and understand food. Where it comes from, the effort it takes to prepare it. I don't know to what extent that has helped them be hearty eaters, probably some. 

As much as it might seen otherwise, I believe it's very important to listen to our children and what their bodies are telling them. We have never forced our children to eat but when they are hungry they are expected to eat what has been cooked and what is served. If they don't like it, there's not a more tasty option waiting in the pantry or freezer, which is pretty much the gist of this post.

But that doesn't mean we are encouraging them to ignore their body's signals. We have tweaked and adjusted our children's diets over the years in response to how their bodies feel after eating. Tummy aches, skin rashes, behavior problems, bowel problems, itchy mouths & throats - all of these (and more) are potential signs of auto-immune responses to food. We do not ignore these. We are a "food sensitivity" aware family.

I think that pretty much covers it - my offfical, no holds barred response to the oft asked question "How do you get your kids to eat all those one pot meals and veggies?" 

I will now slink back to random commenter on other people's blogs.

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

  • Ellen

    Ellen on Sept. 7, 2011, 12:29 a.m.

    You're awesome. We really messed up with our first child. At the time, we were eating VERY poorly. I was determined that my precious little guy would only eat REAL FOOD. So I cooked up grains for him, pureed veggies for him etc etc for a very long time. But sadly, by the time my husband and I caught up with him, health-wise, he was used to "his" food and has been picky ever since. He will eat any vegetable, raw, and any fruit. He is allergic to dairy and sensitive to gluten. Thank goodness he's not allergic to nuts. He only eats "real" food, not processed junk, but his diet is SEVERELY limited. sigh

    By the time #2 came along we had straightened out. He's a great eater. And my beautiful Chinese daughter, who came to us at 9 months, is fabulous. She'll try anything. She also likes to help me in the kitchen while the boys aren't as keen. They will help, but it doesn't hold their interest the way it does for Mae.

    If I could only go back and have a re-do!!!!!!

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  • Wendy

    Wendy on Sept. 7, 2011, 1:02 a.m.

    I've never been a short-order cook either, though I do offer them some choice with the fruit, veggie and sandwich types in the lunches we pack for school. My 10 year old will pretty much eat anything...my 7 and 4 year old are getting there slowly, one tablespoon at a time. :-) I like John Rosemond's approach to kids and food and took it to heart when I first read it; it's very much along the same lines as yours.

    These days, it takes guts to stand up and say that democracy does not reign in the kitchen and at the dinner table, and I applaud you for doing so. Go, girl!

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  • Shannon

    Shannon on Sept. 7, 2011, 1:38 a.m.

    I think I love you, Renee. Love in a we are way too much alike sometimes sort of way. I am that exact same way with our boys - eat it and if you don't want to it will be there in the morning. Our oldest once ate liver for breakfast and then he got to move on to the next meal. I don't think that's mean, I think it's real life.

    I never hide veggies either. Last week my son ate two plates full of salmon burgers and sauteed kale. He could not get enough kale. And I thought if I had ever turned down kale myself or let him have as many sweets as I did as a child then he wouldn't even look at the stuff.

    And it's interesting you mention your apprehensions about mentioning these things because I am the same way. I homebirth, do babywearing, and self-weaned breastfeeding, but we do those things because they make sense and are the best thing for parents and baby. When a parenting philosophy starts embracing something that makes the child happy but is NOT in the child's best interest that is where I veer off a specific philosophy path.

    And I think your approach to feeding your littles is the best thing for them, even if they don't feel it at the time.

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 7, 2011, 1:46 a.m.

      I love you too Shannon (smile). No joke. My kids are such good eaters now (and really have been great eaters for so long) that I really feel the proof is in the pudding. This is true with a lot of parenting philosophies actually...   

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  • desilou

    desilou on Sept. 7, 2011, 1:39 a.m.

    love this! - "I love it when my family raves over a meal I make. But I determined long ago I wasn't going to be a short order cook just to keep the troops happy." - You've summed up my cooking philosophy for me! :)

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  • Dawn Suzette

    Dawn Suzette on Sept. 7, 2011, 1:50 a.m.

    So good Renee... We started off with the right idea but moved off course over the years. Just this last year I have told the kids they have to eat what is on the table or it will show up at the next meal (this is usually a dinner issue... so leftovers for breakfast does not sound so good). It works... even for four and seven... now five and eight year olds. I have yet to have them test me on this.

    Great post!

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  • Becca

    Becca on Sept. 7, 2011, 1:51 a.m.

    Loved reading this! I make the kids a simple meal I know they will like for lunch (sandwich, yogurt, fruit) and breakfast is usually oatmeal and fruit, but for dinner they eat what everyone eats. Just like you do, if you don't like what is served, you do not have to eat, but you will not be getting an alternative. My oldest will eat absolutely anything and my middle, who is very stubborn in all areas of his life, could survive on beans, grains, and yogurt if pressed. He's gone to bed hungry a couple of times but he's coming out of it. Such a simple, yet effective, plan!

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  • Wendy

    Wendy on Sept. 7, 2011, 1:54 a.m.

    Thanks for sharing your philosophy--I totally agree with it by the way. It's nice to hear what I've been thinking verbalized by someone else. I wish we had been more diligent with our 2.5 year old--hopefully it's not too late to turn that around!

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  • Erika

    Erika on Sept. 7, 2011, 2:01 a.m.

    That is really, really good advice. You are such an inspiration and I just love how you talk about real things. And you talk about them honestly and I just am always so inspired when I read your posts.

    I love that line above, "I think I love you, Renee." Ditto.

    It's like your life is 5 years ahead of mine, with your kids being about 5 years older than mine. I hope in 5 years that I will be as solid, grounded, and wise as you.

    Warmly, Erika

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  • Erika

    Erika on Sept. 7, 2011, 2:04 a.m.

    That reminds me, we were just talking about your family around here today because my sister, who lives downstairs, was encouraging my daughter to sell birthday cards (the only thing she inspired to do any handwriting with).

    She got the idea from my brother-in-law (who lives downstairs) who got it from your husband's blog, which he reads all the time.

    Small world. We're all connected through your blogs.

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  • Kim

    Kim on Sept. 7, 2011, 2:06 a.m.

    Absolutely agree! That's how we are raising our three boys: 5, 8 & 9. They eat amazing things: sushi, sashimi, seaweed, goat cheese, and every vegetable that I buy or grow. Because it was never an option. They always had to try one bite. If they didn't like it, I didn't make them finish. They say, "I don't care for that" and then I know they hate it. My 8yo lied to his aunt the other day. Ate a whole piece of the Pampered Chef veggie pizza and told her it was delcious. Later he told me that he didn't care for it and didn't want it again but didn't want to hurt his aunt's feelings. What helped a lot was taking the boys to a charity called Feed My Starving Children. For years we have filled food bags to give to impoverished people around the world. When my boys heard that children eat dried mud balls to conquer the ache in their tummies, they looked at food with gratitude rather than dread. Only in America can we have picky eaters. But not in my house. Super post!

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 7, 2011, 10:50 a.m.

      That's so cool. I love that your kids have a sense for how children in other parts of the world suffer and how that affects their attitude to food. I didn't mention in it in this post because the post was so long to begin with, by I am one of those mothers who will also say, "there are children starving, you are not complaining about your food". Really now. There are people who don't get to eat, everyday, even here in this country. Children who will go to bed hungry and others who will die today from famine. It is simply unconscionable to turn up your nose at supper. 

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  • Mother of Pearl

    Mother of Pearl on Sept. 7, 2011, 2:23 a.m.

    When I was growing up, my mother was fond of making 1) green beans and 2) 20 bean soup. I don't like beans. So she implemented the 3 bean rule. I had to eat 3 beans and then I could chose some other veggie to eat. And if she was making say, potato salad, she would reserve some potatoes for me to eat plain since the dressing was what I didn't like.

    Now that I have kids, I will let them, especially the oldest (9), take a bite of what is offered and then substitute some leftovers from a previous dinner if he doesn't like todays offering. He doesn't do it often, but I don't have a problem with him choosing yesterday's healthful meal over today's.

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  • Noor

    Noor on Sept. 7, 2011, 2:28 a.m.

    Finally! A group of "meany" moms out there, as my friends like to call me. I don't see it as being mean. Just like you said Renee, we like to have rules in our home, and we abide by those rules. I'm definitely sharing this with a lot of friends, so that they know I didn't come up with this method, nor my kids are angels. It's just about setting the limits and being consistent.. The way you put it all together was just AMAZING.. Love you..

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  • Julie

    Julie on Sept. 7, 2011, 2:32 a.m.

    I think it is so true that kids will eat what they are given at a young age (like what you mentioned about how kids eat in different cultures). I have 3 boys, ages 7, 4 and 18 months. I did the 30 day vegan course in March and am doing it again now (btw, I love that you are a contributor in this one, Renee). My 18 month old was only 11 months old when I did the first vegan class so he was at the beginning of eating solid foods. While the other boys turned their noses up at beans, quinoa and tofu, my youngest ones loves them! I am working on getting the older boys to enjoy these foods but it is such a joy to see my youngest love them and feel like I am giving him a better head start than the other two had. This post encourages me to push on with the other two (and their father - got any tips on getting men to eat their veggies?:) ). Thanks, Renee!

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  • Nadine

    Nadine on Sept. 7, 2011, 3:40 a.m.

    Great post...my first three children eat super awesome (26, 24, 18)....they have and will eat anything...including things I would not touch (shhh don't tell them that)...then came along our last two little guys...ages 6 and 7...both special needs...one is Autistic...the other is on the spectrum...they have asthma and lots of allergies....feeding them has always been a challenge...and that is an understatement...as if things were not hard enough...the 6 year old is celiac...and add these to the list.. no wheat, no corn, potatoes, soy, dairy and more...it's been hard...the 6 year old has severe teeth damage from acid reflux and cannot chew anything hard or he is in horrible pain.. and out of the blue tonight...he decided to drink half a cup full of freshly made carrot juice ( he helped juice it) and ate rice noodles with a pesto sauce...Success!!...we did not ask him to eat these things...we just provide the example... Love your approach ...that is exactly what we did with the first 3 kiddos...just had to change it for the last two...but I hope as time goes by it will get a little better...

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  • Tara

    Tara on Sept. 7, 2011, 3:52 a.m.

    As usual, you manage to post something that speaks to where I am in life at the moment. I have a very picky 7 year old. I exposed him to varied and healthy foods throughout his life and did not cook separate meals for him. HOWEVER, the pickier he got the more I began to cook foods that he preferred to avoid stressful mealtimes. In my home as a child, there were always food battles and I have to admit that I would fall into that pattern in my home. We are committed to no stress meals and this has been working. My job is to serve healthy food- their job(I have a 3.5 yr old who eats everything)is to eat it. N o muss no fuss. This summer, I declared that there will be no catering in our home. I will make a family menu and each member will eat it. If my son chooses not to eat something, I do not say anything but I also do not offer it the next meal time (I will now!) I always thought that was a little "mommy dearest" but hearing from so many other moms that this is a standard approach that works- I will be trying it without the guilt. THanks for a great post and for the inspiration....again!

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  • Alisha

    Alisha on Sept. 7, 2011, 3:58 a.m.

    Thank you so much for sharing this!! I have friends with lots of kids who eat (almost) anything and it's such a beautiful thing to see! I just had my first baby 10 and 1/2 months ago and am determined to grind up whatever my husband and I are eating for our son. I have decided to NEVER buy baby food. Your article has given me hope and encouraged me in my endeavors. I think what you're doing is great!! Thanks again, Alisha

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    • Stephanie

      Stephanie on Sept. 16, 2011, 7:51 p.m.

      Alisha -

      Don't bother grinding up your food for your baby -- read up on "Baby Led Weaning" for tips and have your kid eat what you are eating, texture and all!

      -Stephanie

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  • Jill Foley

    Jill Foley on Sept. 7, 2011, 4:05 a.m.

    This post is so full of insight and wisdom...thank you. We have implemented much of what you discuss, but somedays it still feels like a battle. I am much more lenient at breakfast and lunch - my girls definitely have different preferences - but dinner is non-negotiable. (often breakfast and lunch are non-negotiable as well, but if I am lenient, it's at these meals).

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  • Erin

    Erin on Sept. 7, 2011, 4:29 a.m.

    Interesting. I have a 2.5 year old, who is generally pretty good about food. We just serve him whatever we're eating, but don't make a fuss if he leaves certain parts of it. Often he leaves the salad, but other times that's all he eats. Today, he wanted to eat mostly brussel sprouts, and it seems hardly worth worrying that he barely touched the cabbage. I do cut the crusts off his bread for him, though! It seems so much simpler to do it this way than to monitor how much he eats of which things, and he has a pretty good diet so far. Leftover dinner is the bedtime snack, but I don't save it for breakfast. I wonder if I'll need a more hard-nosed strategy like this later though, at whatever magic age down the road kids usually get picky.

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  • Tsh @ SimpleMom

    Tsh @ SimpleMom on Sept. 7, 2011, 5:03 a.m.

    I don't know what I like better about this post: that you make snowmen pancakes like we do, that I can picture you fake laughing about forcing your kids to eat piles of mushy zucchini, that you "went there" with the whole how-the-rest-of-the-world-eats, or that you call yourself a bad ass. I think it's probably that last one. :)

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  • se7en

    se7en on Sept. 7, 2011, 5:35 a.m.

    I had a little smile at this!!! I also like to drop my very opinionated opinions on other folks blogs and then head back to mine with nary an opinion in the world!!! Folks often ask me how I get to eat this and that and it just never occurred to me that they didn't. I have one child that has always refused to eat meat - which is fine, we have a diet with so much available to us that he will get all the resources he needs!!! I find it simply amazing at how many parents try and give their under one year olds three course meals at every meal and how important it is that a child tries thirty million tastes or they will be picky eaters. My kids have always progressed from nursing to eating off my plate and ... there is usually a gasp at "What on earth do they eat off your plate?" Frankly if a plate of food is not good enough for my child then it isn't good enough for me!!! I don't give my kids a heap of choices at all, whatever is on the plate is what we are eating. There is no option for special treatment or menus around here, if you loath something don't eat it (I have a tomato hater too), it will balance out over a period of the day and really there are places in the world where people survive and survive well and far less food and far less variety than we will ever know. My kids do a heap of cooking - they really do like to eat a salad they have made... and if they have grown it then they can't wait to eat it!!! Great post!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Anonymous on Sept. 7, 2011, 10:49 a.m.

    oh WOWOWOWOWOWO...finally a mother who tells it like it is. Love that! So sick of wishy washy-ness when it comes to this and might I add other topics. I will stop there, but my hat is off!!

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  • Karen

    Karen on Sept. 7, 2011, 12:07 p.m.

    You would have liked Renee's maternal grandmother (my Mom). She too was a straight-shooter and we always knew where she stood. Maybe it's the Scottish way - we all miss her.

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  • Heather

    Heather on Sept. 7, 2011, 12:25 p.m.

    I love this! I wish that I could have the follow through on serving my 3 year old the same meal until she eats it. Her dada and I tend to cave late at night when she wants a scoop of almond butter...my other problem is she still nurses on occasion, and so when she doesn't want to eat something, she immediately wants to nurse more...my one year old however wants to eat any and everything that we serve...he doesn't understand yet that he needs more teeth to eat some of the things we eat :-)

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  • Louise

    Louise on Sept. 7, 2011, 12:40 p.m.

    You are AWESOME!!! We have the same rule--this is "dinnah"--eat it now or later... I admit I have been somewhat of a slacker these last nine months (baby fog) so we are currently re-establishing the rules...# 1 is having no problems, # 2 whines but ultimately eat it...#3 ( who is going to be 4 in nov.) sigh is ...different...he will EAT IT but it takes him sometimes close to 2 hours!!!!! UGH We let it go for a few months just to see if he would outgrow it alas we decided last night taking two hours to eat a few tablespoons of food is ridiculous. So my hubbie said no more--any time he takes beyond "normal" eating time (the time we are all sitting together usually about 45 minutes) is HOW MUCH EARLIER he will got to bed...we'll see how that goes...LOL I did have a Q? for you though...what do you do if kid eats 2 TB of food and 30 minutes later is "soooo hungry"??? Do you offer more dinner? a different healthy snack? This is also a constant battle with #3. He is hungry no more than 30 minutes after almost every meal...it is driving me crazy. Now what I have been doing is offering more dinner (that is almost always turned down--and my reply is well if you were really hungry....) anyway your thoughts???? We have also brought in children in other countries and explain how blessed we are to have the food we do...esp. since Brian and I have now both been to a 3rd world country where many children eat mud pies. We have had many dinner discussions about mud pies in Haiti and for the older ones this has been a startling realization. I also recently read Mitten Strings for God and she offers some wonderful suggestions as well for making mealtime more pleasant--one of her suggestions was that NOBODY IS ALLOWED TO BAD MOUTH THE FOOD. I love it. We started that last week...with our own twist...if you do not like the food fine BUT you cannot say "mom I do not like this" you have to say mom I think next time you should make the soup with corn and carrots for veggies instead of beans and spinach. So it gets them thinking about how to "improve" the recipe and think more positively...anyway sorry for the long post but his is a HUGE topic in our family right now :-) HUGS ( coming out of lurking hehe)

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 7, 2011, 1:35 p.m.

      Louise, our children are not allowed to criticize food either. They can say this isn't my favorite or offer some constructive criticism but flat out "this is gross" or some other bratish behavior has never been allowed.  It was funny, a couple weeks ago my mom made a quinoa, greens and roasted beet salad for supper. None of our family particularly likes beets (Damien and I included) so I don't cook them very often. She didn't know this. By the end of the meal, when we had all eaten hearty portions of beet salad, my mom asked us flat out if we liked beets and we all had to admit they weren't our favorite, one child left them on her plate (her one veggie removal choice). Mom said "why didn't you just say so!" But if someone makes you a meal you eat it gratefully and don't start saying "I don't like this". Unless of course you can't eat that food for religious or health reasons but in that case you don't usually share that information at the table, after the meal has been cooked and served. But that is a whole different topic... In the 30 minute later case I would offer supper again or a very healthy snack. Carrot sticks for example. Otherwise, it could become a "eat just a teensy bit of supper and hold out for better snack" habit. My 2 cents. If I recall correct, when our kids were hungry right after supper we offered more supper.

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  • Ginger Allman

    Ginger Allman on Sept. 7, 2011, 12:51 p.m.

    Bravo! I agree with every word and I'm so pleased to see you post this. Thank you, thank you. I have taken a pretty similar stance with my kids and they will pretty much eat anything. We've always seen it as a challenge to try new foods and all three of mine love a trip to an ethnic grocery to see what we can try next. You know...your stance on food is also indicative of why you can take three kids on all the outings you do without any more angst than you have. Kids will complain only as far as you will let them get by with. If whining works, they'll do it until they wear you down. By setting expectations and limits with your kids you teach them that it doesn't work and they end up living a life that's good for them rather than one that's easier for them. (Because if you leave things up to a kid, he'll be eating junk and playing games all the time.)Well done. You are my hero. Now if only all the "other parents" would do it too. It would make things so much easier.

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  • Charity

    Charity on Sept. 7, 2011, 12:58 p.m.

    Hey Renee!!! Good for you sharing this part of your lives!!!! I agree 100%. I am a very picky eater (Alan is not) so when we started having children Alan and I decideded that we were going to teach them to be good eaters. We have seen HUGE success (for the kids and myself)...even to the point that the kids will take a double helping of something they don't really "like" because they are hungry and they know it is what will nourish them for the time. There is still some small amount of protest from Kalli (4) who says, "I really don't like salad (lettuce) mom, but I will eat it," as she munches down two little leaves of lettuce. hehe. Another thing I will do with the kids is have them pick a "new" fruit or veggie from the market or grocery store to try every other week. So on top of our regular meals, the kids can pick something they have never tried before. They really enjoy that! My kids also like it when I enlist their help in meal planning.

    And just to note (to encourage other parents), we have made quite a nutritional transition. Kaylynn was used to boxed cereal for breakfast, Ritz for snack, and Hamburger Helper for dinner. We have done a complete 180 and now serve whole foods with minimal to zero processed foods (I cannot say fully zero because we do buy some "organic" processed foods from time to time). So, it can be done! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject.

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 7, 2011, 1:24 p.m.

      Way to go Charity. I have esteemed and admired your mothering since I met you. I appreciate you sharing your experience.

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  • Renee Siff.

    Renee Siff. on Sept. 7, 2011, 1:54 p.m.

    Thank you for posting this! (Perfect timing) I wholeheartedly agree, we seem to be beginning this stage with Caleb (12 months) including tantrums when requesting or refusing foods. sigh tough love is so much easier to talk about than DO sometimes.

    I grew up with similar table rules and knew that I would always raise my kids this way as well.

    Miss you guys!

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  • Michelle

    Michelle on Sept. 7, 2011, 2:12 p.m.

    I love this article. I especially love how you were brave enough to admit that you are a "no nonsense mother". Very un attachment parenting ish. I am the same way. I don't really get the attachment parenting but I am old I guess (46) :). I have, however, stumbled a lot with the food issue. When we got our littlest one the first three were grown and out of the house. This little gal was 18 months old and only ate french fries and eggs. Not kidding. It was difficult for me to get her to eat at all. She still, at 7, only likes raw veg and has a really strong gag reflex as well but last week...joy of joys, she ate and enjoyed her first piece of steamed broccoli. I am going over to read that other article of yours and hope to get her eating a bit better. Thanks for writing this and inspiring me to move forward Renee.

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 7, 2011, 2:33 p.m.

      Actually, I didn't mean I'm un-attachment ish in general. Just that my food philosophy may seem that way. We very much practiced certain attachment parenting practices. Those that made sense for us and our kids. Just to be clear. Good luck with your daughter.

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      • Michelle

        Michelle on Sept. 8, 2011, 3:15 a.m.

        Actually I didn't mean all of attachment parenting either. I was actually just talking about co-sleeping after the first several months. I guess I just love my sleep and my bed too much to share.

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  • kyndale

    kyndale on Sept. 7, 2011, 3:03 p.m.

    A well written, thorough as heck post! I have your same philosophy. Veggies are just what we eat and they love them. We don't hide them. We show by example. I'd like to say we've been pretty lucky but it's been a intentional decision to live/love veggies. It's no accident! Our kids occasionally ask for something different. I like that we sit down at the table and discuss the flavors of everything and how we could cook them differently next time (or just the same next time). I think it helps to home school. During the day my kids are involved in preparing meals and they love it!

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  • Leilani

    Leilani on Sept. 7, 2011, 3:08 p.m.

    Looks like you hit a home run with this one. I've been thinking of writing an Ode to Renee (I won't, but it's a fun idea), and this post is just one of many many reasons why. We often get comments on how well our children eat, and I really think it's because we have done what you have done. I think it's interesting that I also sometimes worry about appearing as a hard-edged parent over things like this. But I generally think, oh well. :)

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 7, 2011, 3:19 p.m.

      Please no odes. I'd be terribly embarrassed. I think all us no-nonsense moms need to get together for a conference or something. We're all coming out of the woodwork on this one. 

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  • Jenn the Pen

    Jenn the Pen on Sept. 7, 2011, 3:20 p.m.

    I LOVE that you're a no-nonsense parent! I pride myself on that as well. I tell people I'm not a nice mother - I'm a good mother. ;) When my 13 yo baby girl doesn't like what I'm cooking, she's on her own. She's a big girl - she knows how to use what's in the kitchen. Usually I make her try whatever the Mr. & I are having if it's a new dish. Other than that, I don't fight her on it. The world doesn't care if she doesn't like what's being served. She'll have to fend for herself one day.

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  • Shannon

    Shannon on Sept. 7, 2011, 4:33 p.m.

    This is a great, well-written piece. I wish I had read this before our long campaign to clean up our kids' eating habits, habits which we, the people doing the shopping, created. (Which we finally won, thank goodness, neither child is willing to eat a nugget of any kind at this point.) In our culture we get a little sidetracked about what is good parenting. It is not kind to let kids eat the junk we think they want. Food culture is handed down from the generations---what to eat, and how much. Without guidance, we are lost. I say that as the daughter of a very loving woman who thought flat cheese, white bread, spagheddios, boxed mac and cheese, processed meats, Kool-aid and fried foods were just fine. It is extremely hard to break those habits.

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  • Tese

    Tese on Sept. 7, 2011, 6:09 p.m.

    I am a short order cook in my house - and it's no ones fault but my own. As a picky eater my entire life, I empathised with my kids and their easy gag reflexes. Oh, how I wish I had been stronger. My boys are 7 and 10 now and pretty established in their ways and me in my response. This is the year I am determined to help them form better, more diverse eating habits. Wish me luck!

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  • Kerry

    Kerry on Sept. 7, 2011, 7:53 p.m.

    Our kids were all great eaters until we learned we had some food sensitivities then we were ordering special foods in restaurants, grandma was making special dishes at get togethers and I was making 3 different batches of pasta or chili. We have one with tomato issues, one with milk issues and daddy who hates beans. My worst eaters are the two with food sensitivities because they are used to the special meals. It got so bad at one point that I could prepare one of my daughter's favorite meals and she would turn her nose up at it if she wasn't in the mood for it (and she never was). Every meal was a battle, but we're working on getting back on track. I think with older kids it just takes longer.

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  • steadymom

    steadymom on Sept. 7, 2011, 9:06 p.m.

    Your kids are amazing and that's because you and Damien are amazing!

    At the same time I wanted to say that this strategy didn't exactly work out for us the way I thought initially it would.

    I always thought the same way, about not being a "short order cook", etc until the oatmeal incident with Jonathan. Which ended up being like a two hour tantrum ordeal, in front of my in-laws, until he gave in and ate a couple of bites of it. To be honest I felt like it was just not worth it on my end. Yes, I "won" but it didn't feel like a victory. He eats oatmeal all the time, he just didn't care for it that day. Sometimes I feel the same way about a certain food.

    Anyway, since then I have been a lot more lenient about not forcing certain foods and respecting personal preferences like I would with any person. Steve (my husband) really hates eggs, so when I make quiche I don't put a little on his plate--I respect his preferences. Why wouldn't I, within reason, do the same for my children?

    Like you said, you're not out to make meals your kids hate either. We have had some food battles here and there, but overall I love the adventurous eaters our three have become.

    Jamie

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  • Pippi

    Pippi on Sept. 7, 2011, 9:39 p.m.

    We do the same thing at my house! Although I usually don't save the food for the next meal. It's never really come to that. My (almost 4 year old) daughter's trick is to eat dinner and then claim she's hungry again after she's brushed her teeth and is just about ready to go to bed. When she tries to pull that one we tell her to eat more at dinner the next day. She hates bedtime and there was no way I wanted to give her that weapon. We eat dinner and go into the bedtime routine straight away so it's not like it's been long since dinner. And honestly, if my loved, cherished, and well-fed kid is hungry one night by her own choice I don't think it will cause any lasting damage.

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  • Pamela

    Pamela on Sept. 7, 2011, 9:46 p.m.

    I have been waiting for this post! I just knew you would set me straight. I like to think that I'm a no-nonsense mom, but really, I'm exceptional -- as in "I make an exception to every rule." Just ask my husband -- it drives him nuts! I have made a few good strides with our eating habits, but picky eaters are a HUGE downfall for me. I have saved dinner before to be had as a snack later, but I never thought about saving it any longer than that. I think that's fabulous! That totally works around my issue of my little one who will just go without dinner. She's a toughy on just about every front. Incredibly strong-willed. I really need to learn to stick to my guns with her.

    By the way, the one rule I do manage to stick to is: no criticizing the food! I absolutely WILL NOT have food called "gross" or "ick". No faces, no nothing! My little one absolutely understands that all she may say in her most polite tone of voice is, "Mommy, this is not my favorite." And, I love your story about graciously eating beets. You should be a proud Momma!

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  • Jennifer Brotherton

    Jennifer Brotherton on Sept. 7, 2011, 10:02 p.m.

    I have mixed feelings. If I really don't like something, I don't eat it. Period. I wouldn't say I'm picky, but I'm not going to choke something down if it's just down-right disgusting. And I hate to say this, but SO MANY people these days can't cook a meal. They eat out too often or they used boxed/prepared stuff so much that when they try to cook, it just tastes bad. So I do take that into consideration with my kids. If something is just gross, why should they have to choke it down?

    On the other hand, veggies, in and of themselves, aren't gross. It all depends on how they are fixed. My kids have ALWAYS loved veggies. I have never had a child that didn't eat them. Raw. Cooked. Didn't matter. Same with fruit. However, I had a daughter who hated tomato-based sauces. Wouldn't eat pizza or spaghetti. C'mon! So I just kept serving it and wouldn't give up. Eventually, she grew to love it. Inhales it now. That wasn't a case of something tasting bad...it was just her being picky. I have always had good eaters and everyone raves about that. I have always served up all sorts of foods...from authentic mexican, to asian, to indian, to african...you name it! We've always had a very varied palate. I think that makes kids better eaters too. If all they ever get is frozen chicken nuggets, they'll balk at asian cuisine. I know, I've tried it with other people's kids. Wouldn't go past one bite, even when it was DELICIOUS! They just aren't used to that variety.

    And for the record, these kids don't get special meals either. My mom used to fix me special meals if I didn't eat as a child and I grew up and said, "I'll never do that!" LOL!

    Anyway, I've written a book. :) Sorry...

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 7, 2011, 10:21 p.m.

      I think our strategies are closer than they might appear at first glance. I have cooked things that are truly gross (really bad combinations or burnt something) and even I won't eat them. Of course I don't make my kids eat that. Nor do I serve up gross food expecting them to eat it. There's also that one choice factor. Because we eat one pot meals I couldn't have kids develop the taste or habit for not liking everything all mixed together. This is a big problem for some eaters. You'd be real hungry real quick if you refused to eat foods that were all mixed up together. That's really more what I was trying to communicate. There have been some foods I have excused my kids from eating, both in our home and elsewhere. I just didn't go into all those exceptions in this post because it was long enough as is! And so just for the recording I will not eat something downright disgusting (like food gone bad or raw meat) just to be gracious, nor have I taught that to my kids. 

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  • Anonymous

    Anonymous on Sept. 7, 2011, 11:34 p.m.

    Nice to read about other parents who feed their families as I do. When I had my daughter, who is now 7 1/2, I vowed that she wouldn't eat "kid food" - i.e. chicken nuggets, french fries, mac n'cheese - but would eat as my husband and I ate: healthy, home cooked vegetarian food. Going against my sisters ways was hard and fighting off the criticism all the time was difficult. I eventually gave in and let her eat whatever they serve when we are over at their houses. But in our house, you eat what is served, you don't criticize the meal, and if you don't like it, there is nothing else (with some exceptions: sick, or sometimes a really, really bad day can soften me). My daughter tests all the time. I stick to my guns and don't waver. It is one of the harder parts of parenting I think: staying on message all the time.

    We also talk about how you feel after you make bad food choices and at 7 1/2, my daughter is starting to get it.

    Now why don't all you people live near me?!?

    Thanks for a great post!

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  • Anna

    Anna on Sept. 8, 2011, 11:37 a.m.

    Your kids would enjoy hearing my kids' stories about rural Kenya. We spent a month volunteering there in 2010 and the only available food was rice and cabbage every dinner for the entire month. My 10 year old would say "I'm going to starve!" then look across at the actually starving children and eat his rice and cabbage. Our three have never appreciated our fortune as much as they did when we arrived in London and had a simple picnic in Hyde Park after their weeks of rice and cabbage. We're no nonsense vegan eaters at home too, but still have moments when the kids struggle with other people's cooking that tastes unfamiliar, we're working on polite behaviour in these contexts currently.

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  • Amanda

    Amanda on Sept. 8, 2011, 12:01 p.m.

    I've been waiting for this post, too :) Sigh. We are so weird when it comes to food. We had in mind that we wouldn't be short order cooks when my first was born, and also that we wouldn't be preparing "kid cuisine" for them. That, at least, we still don't do. However, it's extremely common for even my husband and me to have something different from the other - he eats red meat and pork and seafood and I don't, for instance. So, unfortunately, it's common to have a minimum of 3 different suppers on the table for 4 people. My first was the picky-picky, my second (6) loves and savors good food and will eat adventurously and with gusto. Thankfully, they do both eat veggies and fruit without any issues. Alec (7) was a vegetarian for a long time but refused any and all sources of protein (no beans, nut butter, cheese, etc) and was so stubborn I could present the same food until it was no longer recognizable and he would choose to be hungry, which naturally affected his behavior and energy in a negative way. Such fun. Anyhow, I have always wished our family could all eat the same food at one sitting, but it just doesn't work that way. Add to this that I'll sometimes cook something and then my husband will come in and fix something else that he wants...it's crazy! The one thing I can say in my defense is that my husband is usually the one who fixes supper, so I guess he can choose to make four things if he wants! When I cook, we're more apt to have a one dish meal or something that it's easy to save parts of without adding the difficult flavors.

    Anyhow, I applaud your way of doing things even if it hasn't, and probably couldn't, work here! Now, the flogging may commence! :)

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 8, 2011, 12:22 p.m.

      Oh hon, I wouldn't criticize you for the way things panned out for your family or the way you choose to do things (smile). I honestly don't believe there is one right way to do food and every family has to find their food philosophy. Do what works for you. Lucky you that your hubs fixes supper! 

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      • Amanda

        Amanda on Sept. 8, 2011, 5:06 p.m.

        Yes, I am lucky that he likes to cook. I don't know if I'd say our way really works for us (maybe it's just me, though)...I have frequently lamented "I wish I could just make one thing that we could all eat" - it would simplify things significantly. It is the way it is, and all the wishing I do won't change it. Nor will my pleas to just stick to a meal plan and once a week grocery shopping (and it is my husband who objects most to this, not the picky child)! At least we all enjoy good, healthy food. I can't see hiding vegetables or making games out of dinner at all.

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  • Kyce

    Kyce on Sept. 8, 2011, 4:14 p.m.

    Well, I thought I was pretty much no-nonsense about food, but consider me schooled! Saving uneaten portions for the next meal? That IS mean! But I love it. And it totally never occurred to me. Perhaps because I have a memory of not being able to leave the table at preschool until I finished a bowl of mushy zucchini. But, I think we will try it. A child that eats is worth it. My daughter is very picky, and also a very poor eater. While I haven't succumbed too much to her whims (okay, I do cook mac and cheese once a week just to fill her belly at least once,) I have been aware that getting her to eat ANYTHING is a challenge, one that was exacerbated by the fact that she seemed to stop growing once weaned and spent a long time in the 10th pecentile. While I try to keep her in mind when I cook dinner, serving at least one or two things that I know she'll eat, (rice or beans, say), I've never fought her disinterest in vegetables. It just seemed like one of those things that she'd grow into, and the less fuss I made about it, the happier we'd all be. That seemed pretty no-nonsense to me. And she will occasionally eat a broccoli or cucumber now, at age 3.5. Another trick I learned, but she still seems too young to try as it involves reasoning, is this: serve a plate with miniscule portions of everything on the dinner table--like, a teaspoon of each. Before the child can have more of any one thing, she must eat all of the samples on the plate. Perhaps too fussy for you, but might work in some homes. I'm much heartened by your words here, and will bring them to our table. Forget the old "no desert (!) till you eat two more bites." Now it's gonna be, No Nothing till you finish!

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 8, 2011, 5:56 p.m.

      Kyce, have you looked into dietary intolerances and sensitivies, ie: gluten issues? Those can sometimes cause some serious growth delays and overall picky eating because the poor kid just feels so bad after eating but has no other way to really communicat it. Not trying to tell you what to do. You probably are aware of this anyway, just sayin'.

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  • Jennifer Brotherton

    Jennifer Brotherton on Sept. 8, 2011, 4:21 p.m.

    Well, I didn't figure you would! LOL! :) I was just saying....

    Also, do you see what I mean about people who can't cook!? We get invited to others' homes a lot, or have pot luck type get-togethers with the homeschool group, etc. and I find that more and more...many people make gross food. Just thought I'd throw that out there. LOL!

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 8, 2011, 5:59 p.m.

      We don't get invited out much... I think we intimidate people to be honest. And then there's the whole 5 in the family thing. Most of our meals with other people are shared, potluck style and truthfully my kids are always wanting to eat other people's food, especially if it came from a box, is processed in any way, has meat, cheese or some other "forbidden" in it (ha, ha!). Seriously, they love eating that stuff. 

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  • Ellen

    Ellen on Sept. 8, 2011, 8 p.m.

    Well, it has begun. My daughter (6) ate the yummy dish I prepared, with ample raw veggies and popcorn on the side. My 8 yo and 9.5 yo did not sample the dish, though they both ate a ton of veggies and a small serving of popcorn. 9.5 woke up, looked at the noodles on his plate, and burst into tears. He took an apple from the fruit bowl on the table and went to school on his own. 8 yo had his almond milk and that was it. He cried the whole bike ride to school. I'm not sure I can do this, though the image of rice and cabbage is a strong one. Any support is welcome! :-0

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  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on Sept. 9, 2011, 12:33 a.m.

    Wow! I have to say that I am a bit shocked at all the responses... I highly value children's instincts. We have practiced child-led feeding (see a post about this here: http://fabulousmamachronicles.blogspot.com/2011/04/our-child-led-feeding-philosophy.html

    Of course we cook everything from scratch and only offered food that was not denatured (nor too sweet or salty), but it never occured to me to force my child to eat something that did not attract her. We have introduced them to a variety of food when they were very little (sauerkraut, sprouts, kefir, moose meat, green smoothies, goat dairies, to name only a few) and refrained from commenting about what they ate, how much they ate, etc. They went through phases where they wanted a lot of meat, phases where they were not interested in meat and only wanted raw vegan food. At other times, they want a lot of breat (sourdough, homemade) with butter and we just let them.

    I cook one meal and if they do not want what I cook, I can make them a green smoothie, or they can help themselves in the fridge to veggies, fruits, nut butter, whatever they feel like having.

    They eat extremely well and a big bag of sprouts is big treat for them! I just respect their tastes and opinion, just like I would if another adult would come over to my place and not like the dinner I prepared. Why would it be different for our children? Why not treat them like we would treat other adults?

    I feel like this technique might bear fruits (hitting children also worked!), but what about messing children's instinct? We are telling them that they cannot listen to their bodies, that we know better... and I don't feel this is fair. I want my girls to be able to listen to how they feel about food in order to trust themselves and build a healthy relation with food.

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 9, 2011, 1:05 a.m.

      I totally understand what you are saying but I would actually expect that if someone came to my house for supper that they would eat what I served them. Just as I would do the same at their home. It might not be their favorite but I would expect them to eat it and not go to the fridge to find something more to their liking.  I guess I am very traditional in the we sit down and we eat a meal eat together way.  And I actually don't let the kids just follow their instincts about food because they would also choose to eat the chips that papa keeps in the cupboard or eat lots of meat but I don't think either of those choices are healthy for them.  I am very old fashioned in believing that in certain instances I know what's better for my kids than they do. I have the wisdom and experience of an adult and they are still children. This is also why I am not philosophically an unschooler. Something I've mentioned on the blog but never delved into. I totally respect your opinion and I think each family has to choose a path that fits with their philosophy.  

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      • renee

        renee on Sept. 9, 2011, 1:58 p.m.

        Just thought of something in this response that might be unclear, papa is my dad, not the kids dad. We are living with my parents this summer and there is food in the house they are not allowed to eat, except for special treat times. We don't have different standards for the kids then ourselves, ie: we're not noshing on sweets & treats or chips and crackers, or whatever, after they go to bed. And something else occured to me (I didn't want to write a book in my post), our kids can eat whatever they want for snacks, within the parameters of what we eat. And they are very picky about the firmness of their fruit etc. as am I. Mushy or mealy fruits and veggies (that are off because of being overripe or something) we will dehydrate instead of eating fresh. Like anyone cares about these details...  

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  • Naomi

    Naomi on Sept. 9, 2011, 1:31 a.m.

    I had much the same view I think, until Nemo went four days without eating and started vomiting, all over one little bite of lasagna, which he had previously loved. Since then, although I have tried a few methods, I try to cook foods we all like, with new foods on the side, and if they don't try one bite of the food they haven't tasted they go to bed and start fresh in the morning. It doesn't happen too often, but food can still be a source of stress.

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 9, 2011, 10:02 a.m.

      I think you have to know your kids. Notice how I didn't prescribe this as a strategy for other people, just "what we did". I much prefer to share experiences this way because I really don't feel I can tell other people what to do, nor do I want to.

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      • Naomi

        Naomi on Sept. 9, 2011, 11:31 p.m.

        Nor did I intrepet your story as "you should do this" :0) I appreciate hearing what has worked for others though. Sometimes experimenting is the best thing, till you find what works! Whatever happened to that manual babies were supposed to come with...

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        • renee

          renee on Sept. 9, 2011, 11:44 p.m.

          I hear you about reading about other people's experiences and gleaning from that. Trying and seeing what works for your own family. I think raising kids is one huge experiment.  You two are doing an awesome job with your three (soon to be four). I have always admired your parenting very much.

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  • Michele Horne

    Michele Horne on Sept. 9, 2011, 2:37 a.m.

    So glad you touched on this topic. Now I can sprinkle my opinion here and avoid the conflict on my own blog. I always feel so holier-than-thou when I ever touch on the subject. (I may or may not have slight problems over-speaking exactly how I feel.) But people constantly comment, "How DO you get your kids to eat so well?" It is so easy to me... they eat what I feed them. I have made them a wide variety of food since they were able to eat solids. I cook one meal at my house for dinner. I might offer a couple of different veggies or perhaps a red sauce and an alfredo with pasta... but that is about the extent of it. They are welcome to not eat it, but they are only allowed water after that. I think people that offer the short order cook route are totally short changing their children.

    Ok, I will get off my soapbox now.

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  • Angie

    Angie on Sept. 9, 2011, 1:53 p.m.

    Loved reading this post, I'm an INFP (full of nonsense), but this is exactly what we do at our house. It doesn't seem to be going as smoothly as you described, but the tears are mostly about any meat in the dish (never the veggies). Maybe we should just take the vegan course . . . ; )

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 9, 2011, 2:04 p.m.

      I love it - INFP. Isn't it ironic, I don't make my kids eat meat if they are guests at someone else's table (this post was more about our table than eating at other places anyway). For the longest time Laurent didn't like meat, the girls have liked it for a long time. But nowadays they all love meat and will eat it any chance they get. 

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  • Lynda

    Lynda on Sept. 9, 2011, 3:28 p.m.

    Absolutely brilliant!!! I have been so fearful in the past of being labelled a "bad mom" for making my son eat more veggies. Now I am a bad mom because he is out of shape and over-weight. Your post gives me courage to make some new rules for meal time. Thank you so much for sharing this, and for the bravery it took to possibly receive criticism.

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  • Erin

    Erin on Sept. 9, 2011, 3:42 p.m.

    Great post. I need to be tougher. I usually include one item in a meal that I know the kids will eat, mac and cheese(the real stuff), noodles, sweet potato fries, etc.. I need to be better about insisting that they eat more of the rest of the meal or save it for later. Maybe eat the rest of the meal before getting a second helping of the "kid preferred" food? I need to rethink the evening snacks (usually string cheese or fruit) as well. Good food for thought.

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  • Ellen

    Ellen on Sept. 9, 2011, 3:50 p.m.

    Update! My 9.5 yo, when confronted with that same spoonful of corn chowder for breakfast this morning, asked me to warm it up. He gulped it down in one swallow, chugged his homemade kefir, and said, "I want to be a raw vegan when I grow up. I think I don't like cooked things." I LOVE that he could verbalize what he didn't like about the food, rather than just refusing to eat it. I told him tonight he would be my sou-chef and we would prepare a raw vegan dinner together. He is very excited. He and I are going to China next year to volunteer in an orphanage there (my youngest is adopted from China). This is a good time to help him learn to appreciate what he is given. It's mostly congee with veggies and steamed eggs at the orphanage. :-) People can say what they like about the internet - I know that my parenting, eating and overall "way of living" has drastically changed since I became a mama in 2002, mostly due to the internet and other people's gentle teaching and guidance. Thank you Renee!

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 9, 2011, 4:56 p.m.

      It's great that he is able to verbalize to you what it was he didn't like about it. When my kids say "I don't like or that because it's too mushy, too spicy, too something". I totally take that into consideration when cooking and I usually don't do repeats of foods they don't like, why would I? It's not that I want to make food my family doesn't like! But if they were to say flat out I don't like beans well then we'd have to work on that because beans are definitely a necessary part of our vegan diet.  I think it's awesome that you're going to China and that learning to appreciate the food you're given will help him during that time.

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      • Catherine Forest

        Catherine Forest on Sept. 10, 2011, 12:39 a.m.

        I am loving this very open and respectful discussion. Of course, when we go out to someone's place, they eat what is served (or not) and that's it. I don't bring an alternative meal for them, of course!

        You would be surprise to see the choices my girls make when allowed to choose between chips and an apple! They often choose not to have a desert if we are out to someone's place because they are full or they simply do not want any.

        I hear what you say about being old-fashionned, but I wonder if it is not a good thing sometimes to rethink what was done in the past, since child psychology was not a very hot topic in the old times...

        Love to you and your sweet family,

        Catherine

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        • renee

          renee on Sept. 10, 2011, 12:19 p.m.

          Catherine, I appreciate you sharing your opinions and parenting experience on this topic. Really. I honestly believe there is no one right way to parent or mother, how could there be in a world with so many unique individuals? Never mind cultures! Looking at history and cultures around the world I see there are so many "successful" ways (where parents have good relationships with their growing and grown children) to do things and I really think each family has to find their own way in that journey. I totally agree it is good to re-think practices done in the past. And I cringe at many "old fashioned practices" probably the way you cringe at our food policy! There is so much of our parenting that is "progressive" so to speak and than other parts that are old fashioned. Our parenting style and choices are definitely a mixed bag but seem to be predominantly influenced by a "do what works to reach our goals" mentality and "who am I and who are these children" mentality. A mix of pragmatism and relational focus. I'm a really pragmatic, do what works person. And Damien is inherently a problem solver. If something isn't working (parenting or otherwise), he seeks to find solutions. We also highly value strong relationship with family. It's one of our core values, to build a good relationship with each other. These (and other factors of course) all come together in how we parent and raise our kids. It's also interesting how much of how we parent is influenced by our personality types. I know much of my parenting style is dictated by my personality and I also know my children's personalities and their relationship with me have changed me through the this journey of mothering. Child psychology has influenced some of our parenting, to be sure, in helping me understand who my kids are and how they tick, especially now in understanding learning styles and personalities. But most of our parenting has been a learn-as-you-go, trial and error process with looking to a few mentoring families for advice and support. Which probably explains why our parenting philosophy is a hodge-podge of old fashioned "do what works to solve this problem" and modern "who are we and how do we help each other reach our potential". It's complicated, isn't it!

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  • Michelle

    Michelle on Sept. 11, 2011, 11:49 a.m.

    Great post! I am a short order cook - part out of necessity (our now 4.5 yo was almost falling off the chart skinny) and part because we couldn't eat as a family due to work and sleep schedules. The few times I tried the "you eat this or you don't, but there's nothing else" the consequences caused me not to continue - up at 10pm with a sobbing 3 year old because he hadn't eaten most of the day and now couldn't sleep or up at 4am with a sobbing 2 year old because, well, same thing. He is super-picky, intense gag reflex (smells of food cooking can push him over the edge, and it's not fake, I've seen that trick too!), reflux diagnosed at 4... Every factor that could work against me did and I threw up my hands. Now he's bored of what he likes and is back to barely eating and I'm back to frustration. I do hide veggies and beans, not because he won't eat them if he knew, but because it's an easy way to add protein and veggies to snacks and breakfast foods that he will eat without struggle.

    When, at 13 months, he started to drop foods that he would eat, I wish I had stayed firm. Good for you for holding your ground!

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  • Michaelanne

    Michaelanne on Sept. 12, 2011, 5:57 p.m.

    I wish I would have read this about 7 years ago!! We gained custody of our grandson when he was 7 months old. Needless to say, he had allready not been off to a great start..the poor little guy was sick CONSTANTLY the first year we had him..He started refusing foods..MANY foods..and I, regretfully, gave in and fed him what he wanted. My own kids were never given this treatment..they ate everything. Well..long story short. Zach is 8 now. We adopted him permanently 3 years ago..and he is a strong, healthy, good boy...who is a TERRIBLY picky eater! Recently, I have been STRONGLY encouraging him to eat what we are eating..at least a few bites! He is SOOOOOO STUBBORN! However, I love your post. It makes such perfect, clear sense..no yelling...no screaming..no ruined dinners!!! I am going to have to try this!! Keep your fingers crossed for me:)

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  • Francesca

    Francesca on Sept. 12, 2011, 11:55 p.m.

    I have picky eaters and reading your post, I feel completely inspired. I informed my husband last night that things are going to CHANGE in a big way as I wanted his total support - which I have. I only have one question, you speak about how effective changing eating habits are with younger kids, that older kids may be more difficult. How do you classify 'young'? I have a 5, 3 and 1 year old. Do you think they're young enough to implement changes without it being too much of a trial (I mean, I'd do it anyway, I feel that strongly about it, I'm just wondering how much of a fight I should prepare for!). My second son is very stubborn and I know, despite him being 3, that I'm up for bigger battles with him.

    So, my question is, when you talk about 'younger' kids, what ages are you thinking of?

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 13, 2011, 12:29 a.m.

      Francesca, We did this from the get go with our kids, when they started tossing food from the high chair age and into the toddler years. Even with that, it wasn't an overnight, no tears kind of affair. Of course kids cry etc. when they are frustrated and can't get their way (just sayin', prepare for some tears). I personally think if you want to make any changes in how you parent (food or otherwise) do it as soon as you can. Any changes are better made the younger your kids are. So if you want to try this do it now. As for trial, I can't know how you're kids are going to respond but if this is new for them prepare for things to be less than pleasant. Though you need to keep a pleasant attitude. I really hesitate to give people advice with how to do this with their own kids. You have to know your kids. There are times to bend and change our position as adults and there are times when we lay down the rules down and enforce them. In our home, one of those no-nonsense areas was food and picky eating.  You asked what I meant by younger. I think it's best if you start this strategy from the start but here's my take on doing it later. What if you lived in a place where all you could give your child to eat was what was on the table? There were no no healthy or un-healthy alternatives - there was literally nothing else to eat. That's been our attitude about what we serve for supper. There is nothing else to eat. And if you're truly hungry you'll eat what's here.  And because we didn't want our kids to hold out for better options they had to eat at least a small serving of that meal.  But maybe since your kids are older maybe just let them go hungry and they can eat what's served at the next meal (with no snacks in between).  Hope that helps some. 

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  • Rambling Heather

    Rambling Heather on Sept. 13, 2011, 12:52 p.m.

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! I'm a no-nonsese mommy too :) I must admit though, I'm bad at inviting the kids to come help in the kitchen. Your photo's about broke my heart because I know that I need to be ok with more mess and more time and ask/let them lend a hand. Thanks for this friend!

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  • Francesca

    Francesca on Sept. 13, 2011, 8:17 p.m.

    This is incredibly helpful, thank you. When you say a small serving, do you mean a couple of mouthfuls?

    I love your explanation of the 'no other options' scenario. You're so right. I think we forget that food is sustenance. However, as much as I want my kids to eat healthily and also want, and maybe more so, for them to enjoy food in the way my husband and I do and I can't help but feel that eating anwider range of foods encourages this.

    Many thanks to you again! This is all very inspiring for me.

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  • Deanna

    Deanna on Sept. 14, 2011, 11:17 p.m.

    Wow, this sure hits close to home! I served eggplant parmesan last evening to our very sensitive 10-year old eater and it wasn't a pretty experience. He struggled and eventually I agreed that he could finish 3/4 of his meal, because he ate without making a huge, dramatic scene (which is a big step for him). The eggplant happened to be given to us by a sweet neighbor, grown in her garden. So eating it is appreciating the labor, the gift as well as the nutritional value of the meal.

    My mother, however, bordered on abusive on this issue. My very worst childhood memories were around the kitchen table because my brother was not a big eater and my mom insisted that he eat ANYthing and EVERYthing. Every mealtime was "game on". I would eat as fast as I could to get away from the table. So I determined not to make the table a battle zone even though my feelings on this issue mirror yours exactly. I'm constantly "checking" myself to see that my expectations are realistic and respectful while also appreciating the fact that I know better than my kids here - that is, I can appreciate how their foods habits will effect and form them as adults.

    I used to , however, let my kids pick their own breakfast every morning (mostly because I'm not a morning person therefore love them to be independent for this meal!) but I've changed since we started homeschooling. Now I make breakfast and everyone eats the same thing - it fosters family unity in some small way.

    Finally, my son has been talking about "First World" problems and I think this qualifies - our kids as a culture are so spoiled (!) which makes this a battle worth fighting smartly. Sorry to hijack your comments, Renee! I've NEVER been so long-winded, but what a great, encouraging post. :)

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  • Stacia

    Stacia on Sept. 18, 2011, 7:39 a.m.

    I guess I'm not mean enough. :-) But that's ok with me. My father tells stories about the cold, mushy green peas coming out of the frig meal after meal when he was growing up, and how he hated all vegetables until he finally learned to like them by cooking them himself (al dente - no mush!) when he was an adult. I had a very high sensitivity to taste/texture/etc. growing up, aggravated by being allergic to all kinds of things at a time when there weren't great substitutes for wheat, dairy, etc. As an adult, I've learned to like more and more things but there are still a lot that I just don't care for and don't eat (beans, tofu, etc.) It didn't matter at all that I was exposed to a wide variety of foods growing up. I'm thankful all the time that my parents never made me eat anything and let me come to it in my own time.

    That said, I readily admit that I do too much "short-order" cooking for my younger boys and am slowly working on expanding their diets. But they also have sensory integration issues AND diverse and extreme likes and dislikes about food. Yes, they would eat more variety if I starved them into it but it would take many days of much hunger. One of them can easily go 10 hours a day without eating anything. Doesn't bother him at all. I'm picking other battles with them for now and they are gradually growing into liking more things.

    I'm glad your style has worked well for you...and very glad I didn't grow up with it as a child myself! :-)

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  • beth@redandhoney

    beth@redandhoney on Sept. 18, 2011, 12:48 p.m.

    Hi Renee, I don't think I've ever commented before here.... I just had to say that I take a very similar approach to serving meals in our house (we have a 3-yr-old and a 14 month old). My one problem is when we allow the 3-yr-old to leave the table without having eaten enough to fill him up (and it's usually a long drawn-out and frustrating process to get him to eat enough). When we let him just go play after he's eaten a few bites, even if we don't give him anything else to eat before bed (other than offering supper again), he will sometimes go to bed and then wake up a whole bunch in the night. What would you do in that case?

    PS - Interestingly, we are exact personality opposites - I'm an INFP :)

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 18, 2011, 11:35 p.m.

      Beth, I'm not sure what I would do in that situation. I don't recall that happening much, though it probably did. They didn't go to bed hungry that often, only once or twice that I remember. (PS. We were quite "attachment-ish" when it came to night time parenting in case you're worried that we just let them cry in hunger or something.) If I remember correctly, if they ate their 2 tablespoons or whatever they could eat something later for snack, apples and peanut butter or example.  I honestly don't recall too clearly. I must have been so sleep deprived I can barely remember (smile).

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  • Abbie

    Abbie on Sept. 18, 2011, 8:43 p.m.

    Amen sister! This is how our house works. I've never had a child (of three old enough to eat food) go past lunchtime the next day when they didn't want to eat supper. Now, I almost never have to save food. :) Much easier battle when they are very young. Also, most parents of picky eaters are picky eaters themselves, so it's no surprise the kids eat what the parents eat.

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  • Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm

    Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm on Sept. 18, 2011, 8:47 p.m.

    I'm working on this with my 16 month old right now... we're still at the "you have to take ONE bite before you can get out of your high chair" phase.

    I like your strategy, but I have to say, as a grown-up picky eater, that it doesn't always work. My parents were the no-nonsense type too. I had to eat whatever was put in front of me, or go to bed hungry. Till I was 18 and left home I probably ate chicken 3-4 times a week and I still HATE it. Oh well. I eat a lot more vegetables than I would've if my parents had let me get away with it!

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  • Cari

    Cari on Sept. 18, 2011, 9:16 p.m.

    I really appreciated this post. My first daughter presented with a dairy allergy very early on. While this has limited us in some regards I believe that it also turned us on to great/healthy non-dairy options that have led her toward a very healthy diet.

    When number two came along, she presented allergy free and picky from the start. If I'm honest, she is presently steering the ship in this area of life (which is never a good idea in the area of child-rearing, I know). While we're certainly not heading to the freezer for chicken nuggets and such, I do allow her to have alternate meals at times (i.e. oatmeal with almond butter for dinner). Still, in my most honest moments I'm eager to come to the table with ONE meal. It is challenging enough to cook more or less dairy-free. To also heat up something different for the toddler is over the top.

    So, thanks for the inspiration and practical steps. I think my main takeaways are presenting her with smaller portions of what we're eating. Not offering alternatives. Ditching the cracker scene at snack time. Each will take some getting used to so I'll stop there for now. Thanks again!

    Cari

    PS Like Tsh, I like that you referred to yourself as a "bad ass" - so much more fitting than "mean mom."

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  • Hannah

    Hannah on Sept. 19, 2011, 12:47 a.m.

    So, any advice for someone who didn't do this early on, perhaps following different advice, and now find themselves with a very picky eleven year old and his equally picky six year old sister? The middle child eats wonderfully, but I think the oldest has rubbed off on the youngest, which makes for some very frustrating dinners.

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 24, 2011, 1:29 p.m.

      Sorry, can't offer anything. You might want to try some of what I said here - Encouraging Children to Embrace Lifestyle Change.

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  • Joanne J-K

    Joanne J-K on Sept. 19, 2011, 1:01 a.m.

    I too made the "I am not a short-order cook" pronouncement and have sent my now five year old to bed hungry more then once BUT food is still a source of contention in our home. She is a picky? eater? One minute nibbling on pimento stuffed olives and the next turning her nose up to a warm apple spice muffin. What works (most of the time) for our family is to offer new foods in two bite quantities and always have something(s) that she will eat also. My daughter loves peas - frozen - right out of the freezer - so any meal with a new or suspicious veggie is accompanied by a healthy dose of ice cold frozen peas - it is a compromise that I am willing to make. She must try the new food and then she can eat all the frozen peas she wants. I also found that a new food goes down with less complaint if Mommy or Daddy is holding the fork. I am not happy with having to feed my very capable 5 year old but usually half way through the meal, when she realizes that I was correct when I told her it tastes good, she will feed herself the rest. Asking her to shovel something new into her mouth - well - you may as well ask her to knit you a sweater whistling dixie - it isn't going to happen. And so it continues.

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  • Sharon

    Sharon on Sept. 19, 2011, 1:26 a.m.

    I wish I had read this when my daughter was a tad bit younger. She is 20 months and used to be a fantastic eater. Then she became less interested in her variety of foods at each meal and now I offer her about 800 different things some days, in desperation for her to eat "enough." I am a picky eater, but not as bad as I used to be. My husband is Asian and will eat anything. I was hoping this would rub off on our daughter. I asked my husband and his sister how they became such good eaters (as in not picky and super adventurous) and they said they were just happy to have food on the table. Yes, they grew up in another country! I have heard of serving whatever the child would not eat, for the next meal. Guess I'd better buck up and start doing this. Here's a question. My daughter sometimes drinks tons of cows milk, and eats less solids. Did you ever have a problem where your toddler filled up on milk instead of eating whatever it was that they didn't want to eat, when you kept offering it to them?

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 24, 2011, 1:31 p.m.

      We were mostly vegan already by the time the kids were little. There was some rice milk offered but mostly water and apple/water juice mix - we don't do juice now and I wouldn't do juice again if I was doing it all over again.

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  • Kara

    Kara on Sept. 19, 2011, 4:36 a.m.

    New here and sooo very much appreciate this post! My oldest is a great eater but I slipped up a little with my younger son. He is 23 months and almost every night is a struggle. I normally convince him to eat one bite, which he holds in his cheek FOREVER! At some point, he decides that the payoff to swallowing is good enough (ie, daddy has pulled out dessert) or we allow him to spit it out and eat another bite the next meal. At this point, if he eats a bite, I considered it good enought to have a slice of bread with honey or whatever treat everyone else is having.
    I guess I have a couple questions. Do you think 2 is old enough to allow him to not eat at all and then serve it to him for the next meal? And is a bite enough the next day? After that, can he move on to whatever is being served to everyone else? And do you let a child chase a food they don't like with a food they do? I think my son would eat anything if you offered him a banana with it but that kind of feels like cheating! Hoping you have a few words of wisdom for me!

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 24, 2011, 1:38 p.m.

      I feel a bit like I'm over my head in trying to answer this. I really think that a family has to do what works for them within their values.  You'll notice in my post the serving sizes were small. That's important.  Sorry I can't be of more help but I'm reluctant to give very specific advice to families about food & eating. I'm happy sharing my own experience but feel out of my element going beyond that.   

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  • Laura

    Laura on Sept. 19, 2011, 6:09 a.m.

    Loved your post. I'm a no nonsense mom stuck in a world of kids with very sensitive taste buds, very stubborn personalities and...I found out the hard way...very terrible medical conditions. My kids cannot go two hours without food or they get very sick. I have to give them something. Anything. Plus the medications they get for the condition make them feel very full so food is often out just on that alone. I got very bad ass with my son a few years ago when he, as my second born, decided he was not having the dinner I made. I was resolved not to have a second child with feeding difficulties and I set my foot down. After several attempts to get him to join the family in eating the same dinner, he went to bed hungry. Figured it would only take that happening once or twice before he realized I meant business. He woke up (barely) so sick the next morning and it was awful. I'm confined to submitting to their medical condition and making my no-nonsense, bad ass mom keep her mouth closed, at least when it comes to food. This is the only area I concede in though - don't mess with me otherwise. ;)

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  • Laura

    Laura on Sept. 19, 2011, 8:10 p.m.

    I can't tell you how much I appreciate this post! We use much the same approach, and I can't tell you how unpopular it is with some friends and family.

    It was important to us from the beginning that our children learn to be thankful for what they're given, whether they are guests or in our home. We don't believe our kids have a right to eat only foods they like, although I try to cook foods that will appeal to everyone and I keep their favorites in frequent rotation. But it's more important to us that our kids are gracious when they receive hospitality - mine included - than whether they enjoy their food. Even if it's burnt or overcooked mush, too salty, or just doesn't taste good to them. If it's good enough for the host to serve to them, it's good enough for them to eat with a good attitude. We still want them to be thankful. They're learning.

    Anyway, it's not forever. When they're adults they can decide what food they want to buy and cook. They'll never have to eat the foods they don't care for in their own homes again. :)

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  • Stephanie

    Stephanie on Sept. 19, 2011, 9:38 p.m.

    Only thing we do differently is that we don't save the dinner till the next meal. I have parents and relatives that had kind of traumatic experiences with that - my father and ALL of his siblings will not eat peas to this very day ever since an incident of 5 days of pea soup as a kid. And before he was potty-trained, my son had a skin sensitivity to acidic foods - awful, bloody diaper rashes if he even ate a cracker preserved with citric acid! So he got special food till he was three - which means he's still the pickier eater. My 2nd is less picky. I'm fascinated that my older isn't enamored of meat, and my younger isn't so into veggies. I don't cater to them, I don't offer a snack if they didn't eat dinner - in fact, if they poke at their food for too long and don't eat, they're sent to bed hungry. I give them oatmeal or toast for breakfast, and kid-friendly fare for lunch (PB&J or yogurt and crackers and fruit, or some such thing)

    Crazy thing is, though it maybe is taking longer for my kids than it did for yours, I'm finding that even without forcing them to take the two bites at the next meal, my kids are coming around to trying new stuff at dinner. My oldest is 5 now, and he actually tried bubble-and-squeak! He loved it and begged for second helpings. So now when he's hesitant to try something, I can remind him of his experience with cabbage, and he is able to see the logic of "why not try it, maybe it will turn out ok!". If he still won't try it, he goes to bed hungry, and sometimes watches the rest of us eat dessert without him. I wouldn't say he's gulping down Kale, but neither am I. He eats far more than most kids his age.

    Good for you for laying down a no-nonsense approach, and encouraging parents not to cave!

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  • Daja

    Daja on Sept. 19, 2011, 9:40 p.m.

    I agree with you on every point! We have seven children and my mantra is, "This is not a restaurant." I just refuse to make each person their own food or adaptation! My husband, who actually IS a picky eater, is on the same page with them, though. Even though he may not like something, he chokes it down for the sake of our children's palettes! :-)

    I have a four year old who more than once has tested the rule about food reappearing at the next meal. A couple weeks ago he had cold salmon loaf and quinoa for breakfast. He wasn't real happy about that, seeing as everyone else was eating homemade muffins. But, he choked it down and went on to eat his promised muffin. :-)

    I just totally refuse to have picky eaters.

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  • Heather

    Heather on Sept. 19, 2011, 11:52 p.m.

    GREAT article! My husband and I have made similar choices with our children and for my 5 year old daughter I can put anything in front of her and she will at least give it a try. I do not be believe in hiding vegetables from our children since they turn into adults who have no idea what real vegetables taste like.

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  • Heather

    Heather on Sept. 24, 2011, 6:12 a.m.

    I had a terrible experience as a child with my mother doing this exact thing--it was over the leftover milk in the cereal bowl, complete with mushy cereal. Three meals that milk sat out waiting for me to eat it. When I didn't and the meal was over it went back in the fridge. By the time breakfast came around the next day, the last couple golden grahams (not one I liked to begin with, but it was the option I was given--god forbid I be given the cereal without sugar I wanted) had disintegrated and the milk had sat out until it got that "warm milk" flavor you get when the dairy has been time-temperature abused. I drank it, and promptly threw up on my mother. It's 20 years later and I still don't eat cereal (I've had two bowls in 5 years).

    First off, if you're going to do this to your kids, don't abuse the food. Don't reheat it a bunch of times or let it sit out for collective hours because it's mealtime and then put it back in the fridge when they won't eat it. That's asking for food poisoning. Ask them if they're going to eat it, and if not their food can stay in the fridge until they're ready.

    Secondly, at some point you have to give in. As a kid my parents had the "three big-kid bites" rule. You just have to TRY it, give it a good honest try and if you don't like it, you never have to eat it again. That's a tactic I can get behind.

    I had a friend through elementary school who was labeled as a picky eater. Yet at lunch or at my house she would eat anything. Her family didn't eat dinner until 8pm, and by then she was just tired. It wasn't until her mom got put on the night shift and dinner got set at 6pm that she suddenly blossomed into a very adventurous eater. Consider your scheduling when asking kids to eat things they're uncomfortable with eating.

    As a kindergartner, I begged my mom to stop buying me raisins for my snack box because "they make my tummy feel funny." That was the only way I could express the swollen, bloated, itchy feeling inside me every time I put a raisin or a grape in my mouth. Fortunately for me, my dad was also allergic to grapes, and gave me secret permission to trade my raisins or grapes for someone else's fruit. I started packing my own lunches by the middle of second grade just so I could stop getting the nasty grape jam on my PBJs, and get oranges and apples or yogurt instead of "fruit snacks" and bags of potato chips.

    Even as an adult, I have appetite issues. Maybe they're related to an underlying eating disorder that hasn't become apparent, maybe they're related to the many physical ailments that I suffer through and possibly in part the medications to treat them, and of course when suffering from fatigue the first thing to go is the appetite. I have learned as an adult what I can always stomach (anything tex-mex inspired is 99% guaranteed), and how to tell if I'm more or less likely to get dinner cooked and then lose my appetite. Certain textures more than anything are more likely to make me gag. If it's something I can dip and/or consider eating one bite at a time rather than looking at a whole plate, I have a lot better chance of eating.

    Children cannot communicate that. What you see as a picky eater can easily be a child who is trying to communicate that they are tired, or have a food allergy/sensitivity, or are otherwise physically ill. It is your responsibility as a parent to determine whether "I don't like it" or "it's gross" is a fear of the unknown, or a legitimate concern.

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  • Holly Berry

    Holly Berry on Sept. 24, 2011, 12:17 p.m.

    Thanks for the reinforcement! We have a 16-month-old who suddenly stopped eating the pieces of steamed veg that he so voraciously consumed just months earlier. I was raised in a family with the same attitude as you, although our family eats much more vegetables and much less meat and cheese than the I had growing up. I was wary to take this stance with such a young child, not wanting to starve the poor little guy. It's nice to hear another (more experienced) Mom reinforce the stance that already seems natural to me. It's also amusing to see people's reactions to some of the things that I give him, esp. the spicy foods that haven't bothered him so far.

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 24, 2011, 1:23 p.m.

      I don't remember our kids doing this (I might just be very forgetful also), I'd be careful with a little one so young. 

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  • Jamey

    Jamey on Oct. 3, 2011, 12:21 a.m.

    In short (because I posted recently about this on my own blog) we used to offer a healthy alternative to dinner, but then suddenly had three preschoolers within 25 months of each other and realized that a peanut butter sandwich for one was now peanut butter sandwiches for everyone and we regrouped.

    I really really try to respect their food preferences and quirks as people, but still have boundaries, yet encourage them to try new foods. To that end we say, "you can't be rude about food" preschoolers love to rhyme..... We encourage them to try a bite of everything per year that they are (right now 2, 3, and 4)but I'm not going to try and force them to eat it by making them sit there forever and continually re-serving it to them. For me, that just doesn't feel respectful, but I love what you said about each family doing works for them, right on! If they don't want to it eat it then they can be done and no snacks until the next meal.

    We also don't use the "starving children" line because one of my kids is adopted and could have been one of those children. I can hardly expect her to be 'grateful' that she gave up her entire life to come and eat broccoli with us.

    If I serve a veggie that a lot of the kids don't want to try then I do serve it over and over again in different forms/dips/etc (nothing "fun", just different) to try and get them exposure with it and that seems to work for us as well.

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  • Julia

    Julia on Oct. 7, 2011, 3:23 p.m.

    So nice to see parents who are doing it the right way! Your post is wonderful -- and there's no need to apologize at the beginning and say that every family needs to do things their way. It's families that are doing things "their way" that have led to an epidemic of obesity and a culture of junk food! Stand up and be proud of yourself!

    I have a blog devoted to helping parents teach their children to love healthy food. http://smartparentprogram.blogspot.com/

    Keep up the great work!

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  • Heather

    Heather on Feb. 13, 2012, 8:33 p.m.

    Renee, I am a new reader. I stumbled across this post about two weeks ago. My husband and I started this no-nonsense strategy with our very picky almost three year old and our slightly less picky almost 2 year old. Last night I made a delicious stir fry with tofu on top of brown rice. My almost two year old fussed for about 3 minutes until he realized nothing else was coming. He then polished off three servings. My 3 year old hasn't eaten it yet. We have now had dinner, breakfast, snack, lunch, and afternoon snack and she still won't eat. Am I going to starve my child? She is really thin to begin with. I am still a new parent. I am desperately trying to break the food cycle in my family. My parents fed us a diet of meat and potatoes with a spoonful of frozen veg. It's breaking my heart that my daughter won't eat. How long do I let her "fast"?

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    • renee

      renee on Feb. 13, 2012, 10:26 p.m.

      Heather, by the time I answer this you will probably have figured out your own solution, which is best. I feel totally unqualified and not comfortable addressing specific situations like this. This post was intended to explain how we did it, not how other people need to or should address picking eating in their family. You need to follow your mother's instinct and common sense in this and all areas of parenting. It's really hard without knowing a family's history, relationship dynamics, food culture, etc. to give advice of this nature. I'm so sorry I just don't feel comfortable doing that, nor do I want that responsibility. But I would ere on the side of caution (ie: let her eat something else, something healthy). 

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      • Heather

        Heather on Feb. 14, 2012, 2:53 a.m.

        Thank you so much for responding. You are absolutely right about not wanting to give me advice without knowing my family personally. I don't know what I was thinking, except I was having a very emotional day. Fiona stopped eating healthy food the day she weaned herself from breastfeeding. I am, however, pleased to report that my wonderful daughter ate three bowls of whole wheat spaghetti with eggplant and spinach. This is something she never would have touched before today. So we must be doing something right. I think I was just looking for someone to make me feel better about myself as a Mom. My mother is not happy that we are now vegans and that we are "making" our kids eat the same way as us. I really appreciate you taking the time to respond. I am really enjoying reading through your blog.

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  • Tosha

    Tosha on Feb. 26, 2012, 2:01 p.m.

    Oh MY ATLANTA Finally a mom who thinks like I do. As i type my four year old daughter is up and playing cause she ate her ( what in my house is not a typical breakfast but catered to her friends who stayed the night) food. While her friends who I do have more than once a week refuse to eat anything that is not processed and not really food if you ask me. I just dont get it. You love your kids, you want them to succeed and grow then why wont you make them eat their veggies and fruits. I know I know I sound like a snob well when it comes to the food I make I am. I see the results every time we go out to eat. RNF ( my daughter) will eat whats on my plate by her request and not just chicken nuggets. She loves fruits and vegtables. Their are certain things off the menu for her too but she has to try each time I make it. If still not a hit then ok but sometimes she goes I do like this mom!

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  • Cecee

    Cecee on Nov. 10, 2013, 9:50 p.m.

    I read this post as a link today from goodcheapeats.com blog. I don't have kids and my husband and I eat EVERYTHING so pickiness isn't an issue for us. I did want to comment on the not saying negative things about food. I think it is so important to teach children to not make "bratty" comments about food. I was never allowed to talk about food in a negative way as a child and I don't do it as an adult. I am from southeast Louisiana and I eat a lot of Cajun food (read: seafood, strange spices, organ meats etc) and daily I have ADULTS at my work turn up their noses and make ugly comments about MY lunch, as if I was asking them to eat it! I love that you guys are raising a generation of food loving adults, not food hating kids :) 

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  • Robin Gagnier

    Robin Gagnier on Nov. 18, 2013, 2:41 p.m.

    Thank you for your article. No need to be defensive. You are doing what should be natural; that being that the parents are in charge. I have been hunting on line for an article that might help my son learn to feed his 5 year old son with less conflict. What I have found everywhere is 'Don't make an issue of eating. Avoid drama at mealtime." etc.. The trouble is that there WILL be drama when you offer the average child a brussel sprout. And for really picky eaters, all it takes is too much jam on the toast or an 'icky' food on the plate to bring the meal to a screeching halt. In some cases, as in my grandson's, it has gone to the extreme. There is a meltdown over almost all foods. It has become less about the food and more about the control. Not wanting to 'provoke' a screaming rage, the parents who are well meaning, don't insist that he eat a balanced diet. The result is malnutrition and extreme underweight. 

    You may be the lone wolf, urging parents to take back control. I commend you on this. Bravo!

    A Worried Granny in Montreal

     

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    • renee

      renee on Nov. 18, 2013, 2:54 p.m.

      Dear Robin. Thank you for your comment. I don't want to be defensive but as a "modern-day, old fashioned parent" (I believe parents are in charge, family life is not a democracy, and that I do know what's best for my young children) I find myself feeling defensive because parenting philosophies have shifted so much over the years.

      Change is good. Recognizing the rights of children, the uniqueness of children, being attached to your children - all that is fabulous. But somehow this has translated for some people into letting young children rule the roost, so to speak. It's an interesting cultural phenomenon and probably the pendulum will swing to a more centered place, eventually. 

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      • Robin Gagnier

        Robin Gagnier on Nov. 18, 2013, 3:17 p.m.

        One can only hope... It may take time; such as when these 'tyrant children' have their own children and don't want to give over their control.  

        I am the parent of 3 very picky eaters (my husband and I having been the same) and like you decided when they were very young that they would eat what we ate. They stayed at the table until they ate what I served which was reasonable (3 bites of a new or disliked food). They soon learned that 'Mum meant business." and the manipulation, negotiations, pleading, tears etc.. didn't work. If there was drama, it was theirs. I wasn't getting involved. I was not going to listen to it..and it did all stop. But you have to weather the storm.

        I like to imagine a family in the early 1900's. Would the mother of a busy, farming family of 6 kids, negotiate and cajole each of those children to eat?  No, it was, "Here is our meal. Be thankful that you have food on your plate." God help any child who had the nerve to complain! Mother also lined the children up before breakfast and with spoon in hand and a dark bottle of cod liver oil in the other, said "Open your mouth. Here comes what is going to give you strong teeth and bones!" Amen!

        Mealtime should be pleasant and anyone who complains can leave the table and come back when he or she wants to enjoy the meal...and not ruin it for the others. 

        I love all your ideas and wish that more mothers could read your blog that addresses parental attitude, child behaviour and food. Other sites just say, "Avoid drama." "Don't make food an issue." "Don't worry, a diet of Kraft dinner is fine. He will grow out of it." 

        I hope that your message reaches others out there. Thanks!

        Robin

         

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