"Order Up!"

Last week in our ECFE class, during the parent discussion portion, the topic of getting your kids to eat was brought up. Several moms talked about how they couldn't get their kids to eat anything but chicken nuggets, hot dogs and mac and cheese! And no matter how they tried to persuade their kiddos to eat veggies, other than a carrot, they just couldn't make them do it.
Someone who doesn't want to put in the effort/work may call me "lucky" because both of our boys eat nearly everything and anything they are offered, this nearly included a Boxelder bug this week...!
But my husband and I know better than that and realize that luck doesn't have much to do with us having two boys who eat the meals that are prepared for them.
What is our secret? Why don't we have to plead and beg our kids to eat? We don't give them a choice.  I am and refuse to be a short order cook. Now, I'm not saying that if one of them tries something new or eats everything they are given and are still hungry that I won't make them a peanut butter sandwich as a substitute or to fill them up a little more. My main goal in preparing their food is to help them to be healthy and strong for a lifetime, not just to get through another meal. This means introducing them to real food. By real I mean foods that were harvested and weren't made in a factory somewhere. I try my best to only give them limited processed foods and ones that have an ingredient list of five items or less. Five ingredients that I can pronounce.

1. Use child sized plates with dividers. I've picked up a few cheap plates with TV characters on them to help grab their attention. We've also played the game of looking for the characters under the food. They need to "unbury" them from the peas, grapes, etc.  Kids, like some adults I know, don't want their foods to meet. Eliminate that problem with the dividers and you've got one less hurdle at meal time. Plus, you won't have to worry about them breaking the matching plate settings you got for your wedding.
2. Use dip. If it comes down to it I'm not above offering a little dip for their meal. However...I'm not covering their food in cheese sauce simply to have them choke down a few spears of broccoli. To me, it would defeat the purpose of eating the veggies- the fat and sodium in prepackaged cheese sauce is insane. I WILL sprinkle some Parmesan on their broccoli or offer a little Ranch dressing for grilled chicken. If you as the parent are thinking you're setting a healthy example by eating a salad and then drowning it in a creamy, fattening dressing....think again. Your kids are going to model their eating patterns after you.
3. Give them choices and ask them what they want. Start out your week with grocery shopping and ask them what they think they may want to eat that week. If it is a reasonable request, grant it! They'll be happy to see what they requested is there for them to eat. Plus, kids have very few times in their little life to make any decisions, giving them that "power" at meal time may help in other areas too.
4. DON'T give them a choice. Once the meal has been made, don't offer to make them something that isn't on the menu. If your child is hungry, they will eat. I can't imagine there wouldn't be SOMETHING on their plate they could eat. If I've prepared something new or different, I always make sure there is something else I know they will like. If after they taste the something new and they still don't like it I, on occasion, will make a peanut butter sandwich.
5. Grab a sous chef. Have your child help shop for and prepare the food. If they know where the food came from and how it was made they may be more likely to eat it. It may seem like a really bad idea to bring your child to the grocery store with you, but if you plan ahead and give them a task to complete while there, you'd be surprised how helpful they can be! Take your grocery flyer, cut out a few pictures of what you will need to buy and glue to a piece of paper as your child's shopping list.
 Don't set yourself up for disaster though and head to the store right before lunch or nap time. No one will enjoy a trip filled with crying and climbing out of the cart. Even worse, don't try to keep them contained by stuffing them full of treats and bribes at the store, only to have them crash and burn with a melt down when you get home.
If you still find yourself at your wits end trying to get them to eat something green, I recommend resorting to sneakiness. The cookbook Deceptively Delicious is packed with ideas on how you can add veggies to nearly any dish without your child knowing. It's written by Jessica Seinfeld and is really worth the money to pick up a copy. Even if your kids do like veggies, it has a ton of new ideas for snacks, dinner and even sweet treats. And... now her second cookbook is out Double Delicious!
With all of this said, I won't pretend that my boys always eat their food or that we don't swing through a drive-thru to grab a sandwich when we're traveling somewhere or let them have mini corn dogs if we are out to eat with friends. I'm a realist and know that a majority of the time they eat really well and that a part of eating is entertainment and experience. If that means cheese curds at the state fair and a cheeseburger from McDonald's every now and then I still think they'll turn out ok.


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