Talk to your children about variety!

  • I’m not talking about sending broccoli today because you sent peas in yesterday and then asking your kids to eat the broccoli. That’s secret variety.
  • I’m also not talking about telling your kids that they can’t have chicken nuggets today because you know they ate nuggets yesterday. That’s also secret variety.

State variety as a family-eating rule or guideline: “We don’t eat the same food two days in a row.”

I call this The Rotation Rule.

Your kids can’t get on the variety “train” if they don’t know the goal. (And hoping they’ll figure it out themselves is kind of crazy.)

I know three year olds who put variety into practice on their own. But it took repeating the lesson a lot (just like it does when you’re teaching manners).

Think you can’t implement variety when your children eat at school?  

If so, you’re not alone. In response to my post last week, Tina wrote that her son has chosen the same sides at school— pickles, black olives and cucumbers—for three consecutive days.

First, I want to say…

  1. Aren’t you impressed that this school offers side dishes like this?
  2. Are you impressed that this young child chooses pickles, olives and cucumbers?
  3. I am!

Now, I know that Tina has variety covered at home, and, that she hasn’t asked for my input. However, here are some ideas for how she could bring her child onboard with more variety at school.

How to talk to your kids about variety at school…

  • Parent: I’d like you to choose different food from day-to-day. Remember, we’ve talked about The Rotation Rule.
  • Child: But these are the sides that I like the most.
  • Parent: Well, we can’t always eat the foods we like the most. I like chocolate cake a lot but I don’t eat it every day. Are there other foods you like?
  • Well, they do have tomatoes.
  • Why not switch between tomatoes and pickles? If you want, you can keep eating the olives and the cucumbers every day. (Note to parents: eventually you could put these foods into the rotation too.)

Here’s another sample dialogue…

  • Parent: I’d like you to choose different food from day-to-day. Remember, we’ve talked about The Rotation Rule.
  • Child: All the other sides are disgusting.
  • Parent: Oh, that’s awful. What if you have pickles and cucumbers today and then cucumbers and olives tomorrow?

You can use this strategy for coping with chocolate milk, pizza, nuggets and other “dailies” your kids are apt to choose.

The point is NOT to have an absolutely perfect rotation.

The point is to…

  1. Have variety become a habit using foods your children already happily eat. Remember, variety means different not new.
  2. Teach your children to implement variety themselves. This requires teaching and negotiation.

Negotiation isn’t bad. In fact, it empowers your children by making them feel valued and part of the solution.

It also builds trust in your relationship. (Unless, of course, your children are chronic negotiators. Read Raising Lawyers.)

Reach an agreement about variety that your children agree to live with.

The key ingredient: Make sure your children know they will not, under any circumstances, get into trouble if they violate the variety rule.

This is crucial. You want your children to be honest.

If they don’t implement the variety rule at school, find out why. Then problem-solve together.

By the way, I know that it’s tempting to think that variety doesn’t matter when the food being selected is healthy (or relatively healthy). 

But it does.

Variety doesn’t just ensure that your kids get the range of nutrients they need. It also lays the foundation for new food acceptance because it keeps flavors and textures rotating. Plus, new foods stand out less in a rotating system than in a stagnant one.

Variety is a state of mind.

It is also one of the three principles of healthy eating. Proportion and moderation are the other two. Together, these habits are the only eating behaviors your kids need to learn to be healthy eaters.

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~