If you want your children to change how they eat, you’re going to have to change how you interact with them around food.

That might sound like the most obvious statement you’ve ever heard, but I can’t tell you how many parents I meet who are stuck in a routine that’s not working.  (You might say they’ve fallen and they can’t get up!)

It doesn’t matter whether you want your kids to:

  • Try new food.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Tolerate different foods on their plates.
  • Eat more food at meals.
  • Behave better at the table.
  • Change how they eat in any way.

To get something new, you’ve got to do something new.

You can’t keep using the same parenting strategies and expect different results.

That’s the definition of insanity.

  • Constantly saying two more bites?
  • Still bribing your kids with brownies to get them to eat broccoli?
  • Forever fixing your kids’ favorites but hoping they’ll try something new?

When parenting techniques succeed, they become obsolete.  You can stop using them because children perform the desired behavior on their own.

In other words, if trading peas for pie were a successful strategy, it would sell your peanut on the pleasure of eating peas. You wouldn’t have to continually remind her (i.e. bribe her) to eat them.

Some parenting strategies obviously crash and burn.

You ask your children to eat their peas and they don’t.

Other tactics tank more subtly: When you bribe your kids with pie to get them to eat their peas, they eat them. When you don’t, they won’t.

Even when these tactics seem to work—brownies can get your kids to eat their broccoli, I’m not disputing that—they don’t get you any closer to your ultimate goal: producing a voluntary (and happy) veggie-eater. Indeed, sometimes these tactics send you farther afield. Research shows that kids develop a negative association with foods they’ve been forced to eat.

So what should you do?

1) Identify your goal.  Think BIG.

Move beyond the immediate meal and think about the lessons you want your children to learn for a lifetime of healthy eating.  Then, ask yourself if your short-term strategies are helping you attain those long-term goals. They might just be getting in your way.

For instance, if you always prepare foods you know your child will eat, you’re not doing her any favors. Serving the same preferred foods repeatedly won’t teach your child to eat new foods. It will reinforce her limited palate instead.  Read House Building 101 to get out of this rut.

2) Break the task into small, doable steps.

Want your kids to try new foods?  Maximize your chances for success by thinking SMALL.  That’s the idea behind The Happy Bite.

Recognize that the road to eating new foods might begin with a touch, a sniff, and then a very small taste. It might mean introducing your kids to familiar foods presented in a new ways:  nuggets cut into new shapes, pasta in varied colors, and different flavored cookies.

For ideas read:

3) Celebrate small successes.

Instead of being disappointed that your child only tasted the tortollini—you were hoping to get a whole meal out of the deal—remember to reward and reinforce each step until you have built up to the bigger accomplishment. After all, back when your kids were crawlers you didn’t wait until they could walk on their own before you began cooing and congratulating them.  No. You praised each small, wobbly step along the way.  Beginning eaters need encouragement too.

Every time you feed your kids you’re shaping their habits.

The only question that remains is this: what are you going to teach them?  And if your kids don’t eat the way you want them to, you may be teaching the wrong lessons.  Read Conscious Parenting.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~