Recently a fellow blogger reposted one of our articles, and commented that she’d chuckled when she’d read in the ‘about us’ section: “Yes, it’s wonderful to know 16 Ways to Make Great Gifts out of Used Dental Floss, but it would be better to know two strategies for making your kid eat his goddamn peas.” It made me realize that I’d never shared any of our experiences or offered advice about getting kids to eat. Well, I’m here to remedy that.
Everyone knows that eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is crucial to a child’s development and general well-being, and every parent wants their kids to eat right. What pre-parents often fail to recognize is how hard that can be when little lips are locked tight to many of the foods that we try to cram in there. Battles ensue. Tantrums erupt. There’s much cajoling, much coercion. Briefly, it’s often a pain in the ass.
Very early on, our eldest showed a strong aversion to many of the foods we consider as staples for most kids. He’s never liked fruit. The sight of a banana gives him the willies, the sweet smell of a pineapple literally nauseates him. But he’s always been eager to munch on raw broccoli or shovel down fresh peas. Weird. He was three before we could convince him to even try ice cream. Weird. He would gobble down so much sashimi that the staff at our local sushi joint dubbed him ‘The Salmon King,’ but he simply won’t touch a grilled cheese sandwich. Anything that swims, scoots, or scuttles along the sea floor he’ll eat without a moment’s hesitation, but for a long time spaghetti was anathema to him. That’s fine, but it made getting a wide variety of foods into him on a daily basis problematic.
So at the age of around three we instituted a chart of Colorful Foods, which hung on our refrigerator door.
The deal was one of simple incentive: eat at least one reasonable portion from each color group every day for seven consecutive days, and at the end you get some kind of reward – a small toy, a special sweet, whatever.
Somewhat to our surprise, it worked. He would look at the chart at mealtimes and ask how he could get the colors he was missing thus far that day. But there was another unexpected outcome. Not only did he eat better, but we fed him better. There’s pressure not only on the child to eat a varied diet, but on the parents to provide one. Believe me, at times we were scrambling to come up with something red, or green, or brown, and it demanded more foresight and planning on our part.
There was also, at times, some creative accounting. Red apples counted as red, green apples satisfied the green column. But in a pinch, the flesh of an apple could be used to tick the white requirement. Come on, it’s white. There are limits to this bending of the rules, however; chocolate, while undeniably brown, doesn’t count.
Nor does having a raft of mini marshmallows afloat on a sea of hot cocoa allow you to cheerfully tick off white and brown. Same goes for ice cream sandwiches. You get the point.
So if you’re doing daily battle to get the little buggers to eat well, give this food chart a shot. And keep trying new foods all the time, again and again. Some day they just might enjoy that side of spinach, even if they’d never admit it.