I’m always glad when parents tell me their children are adventurous eaters at school but not at home.

OK, maybe we’re not talking adventurous. Maybe your kids are just willing to try something when it is presented by the teacher…or the nanny…or the grandparents…or…well, anyone but you.

It’s frustrating. But it can also be a cause for celebration.

When children are willing to eat for someone else, it means:

  • There is no oral-motor issue to resolve.
  • No extreme sensory sensitivites.
  • No medical condition.
  • No psychological condition.

When a child eats one way with one person and another way with another person you’re dealing with a plain old, garden variety, control struggle.

You can never win a control struggle by out-controlling your kid.

You might think you’ve won a control struggle — your child will eat another bite of broccoli in order to get to the pie – -but this is a false win…you’ll have to use the big guns again tomorrow. Read Wheelin’ and Dealin’: 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Trade Peas for Pie.

Control struggles often look like a game of catch: first I have the ball (control) and then you have the ball (control). We need a new model: shared control.

It doesn’t mean the solution will be easy. It does mean that the path is clear.

Here is my 6 Step Plan for Turning Super School Eaters into Super Home Eaters.

This plan is authoritative parenting in action. It combines structure with warmth and compassion. It also teaches the three eating habits: proportion, variety, moderation.

1. Discuss the situation with your child, in a non-threatening, non-accusatory, non-pressure way: “I have noticed that you are willing to eat mashed potatoes at school but you don’t want to eat mashed potatoes at home. Can you tell me why?

2. Don’t try to reason with your child. Don’t try to talk your child out of eating this way. Don’t try to talk your child into eating another way. When kids eat this way, they’re not operating with their rational brain. Anything you say to “argue” your point will be met with resistence.

3. Implement the Rotation Rule and the Eating Zones Rule at home.

  • The Rotation Rule, not serving the same food two days in a row, will set a foundation for new food acceptance. It will also provide structure for making eating decisions that go beyond, “This is what I want to eat right now.” The Rotation Rule makes eating decisions predictable, not arbitrary, and that cuts down on the fighting.

   If you aren’t familiar with the Rotation Rule, read End Picky Eating with the Rotation Rule.

  • The Eating Zones Rule sets a structure for when food is available and when food is not available. This helps children learn the natural consequences of not eating — they get hungry — and that they can live with temporary hunger. Both are extremely valuable lessons for kids to learn. The Eating Zones Rule will help YOU remember that a meal or snack is always around the corner.

   If you aren’t familiar with the Eating Zones Rule, read Hunger vs. Appetite.

4. Turn your picky eater into a Food Critic. Explore the sensory properties of food with no expectation that your child will eat food that is being sampled. Read: Unleash Your Toddler’s Inner Food Critic.

5. Start serving whatever you want at meals. But be nice, make sure there is always something familiar on the table.  

  • Make sure you rotate through familair foods. In other words, don’t put bread on the table every day.
  • Don’t make the familiar food a favorite food, such as pasta, except occasionally.
  • It’s OK if the familiar food is boring, such as broccoli and/or rice.
  • Consider using a backup. Read How Cottage Cheese Changed My Life.

6. Keep the conversation going. Authoritative parenting combines structure and warmth/compassion. It is a model of shared control, that’s all about teaching.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~