Parents often ask me what they ought to do when their child refuses to eat the meal that’s been prepared.
Here’s one of my answers: use a backup.
I don’t need a backup anymore because I’m not parenting a defiant eater anymore. But boy, did cottage cheese save my life.
Here’s an old post about backups. And do read this post on Cook. Play. Explore. which describes the author’s experience using this technique.
Cottage cheese gets a bad rap. It has the misfortune of being thought of as a diet food (and a pretty awful one at that). But let me tell you how it changed my life.
My daughter likes cottage cheese. She doesn’t LOVE it, would never choose it over something preferable – something like sushi, steak or even mac ‘n cheese – but when I serve up meatloaf, a spicy chili or a new dish that doesn’t quite make it, cottage cheese is her “go-to” meal.
I learned a long time ago that giving my daughter the option of eating cottage cheese whenever she didn’t want my dinner enabled me to cook whatever I desired. And that opened up the culinary world to my husband and me – and, as it turned out, to my daughter as well.
Cottage cheese is our backup. And, sometimes, having a backup is all you need to turn a tense meal around.
Kids have all sorts of reasons to decline your meal: they don’t like it, they don’t feel like eating it today, they’re cruising for some control. Having a backup eliminates the sting of your kids’ snubs.
Having a backup means you don’t have to beg, bribe or cajole your kids into eating, you don’t have to cook an alternate meal (or multiple alternates if you have a couple of kids) and you don’t have to worry about starvation. You can simply say, “There’s always cottage cheese.”
A backup gives your children the safety net they need.
The backup gives your kids control over what they eat because they know exactly what the options are: they eat either the meal you’ve prepared or the backup.
The backup gives your children the freedom to try new foods because they know there’s always an out: the backup.
The backup eliminates the power play.
Your children don’t have to like cottage cheese.
Don’t panic if your kids don’t like cottage cheese. There are lots of other foods you can use as a backup: tofu, hummus, plain yogurt, beans (or anything else out of a can that can be consumed without cooking).
Whatever backup food you choose, make sure it meets the following criteria:
1) The backup must always be the same food item. Pick ONE food and only ONE food to use as a backup. It will undermine your efforts if your give your children choices for the backup of if the backup changes from time to time.
2) The backup must always be available. Use a food that isn’t highly perishable and which you usually stock. Cottage cheese works because it comes in small snack sizes that stay fresh for weeks at a time.
3) The backup must be nutritious. That way you won’t worry when your children choose it.
4) The backup must be a NO COOK item. The point is to make your life easier, not harder.
5) The backup must NOT be a preferred food. Don’t choose cereal, sandwiches, flavored yogurt, or anything else your children would rather eat. You don’t want to give them an incentive to choose the backup. Instead, select something your kids like, not LOVE, and which they find kind of boring.
The backup works by changing the dynamic at the dinner table.
When you set the overarching parameters, and your children make the choices, you alter your interactions so there’s no more fighting about food. And your kids end up eating more of what you serve. Now that’s a habit to cultivate!
~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~