Bribing kids to eat is something that most parents have done occasionally (me, too). And it’s not hard to see why. It usually gets the job done: most kids will eat their peas if an ice cream is dangled in front of them.
The problem, though, is that rewards and bribes can work, but at a high cost:
- While rewards often make our kids eat, eg. peas, it won’t make them like them. Studies have shown that children are less likely to enjoy things they are rewarded to do.
- Furthermore, people are likely to love the reward more after being rewarded: which means that if you bribe your child with ice cream for eating peas, chances are that he will idealize the ice cream, now and in the future.
- Rewards are only effective for as long as they are present. When removed, they stop working. This means that yes, your kid will eat the peas, but he won’t once you stop...
We can all find so many arguments AGAINST involving kids in cooking:
who has the time to start cooking 2 hours ahead of dinner?
who has patience for it (could they BE any slower at peeling those potatoes?)
who’s supposed to clean up after the mess?
are those hands as clean as they say they are (I doubt it!)
this was MY time to just spend time with ME.
I get it. Because all the above
But: let’s look at the benefits of involving them:
Picky kids become less picky when engaging in cooking
Gives them a sense of independence and confidence
They learn important skills, not only cooking skills, but also basic math concepts and language skills
They learn how to structure a task
Cooking teaches them discipline
They learn where food comes from
It stimulates their creativity
They’re more likely to get a healthy lifestyle
You’ll get quality time together
(I know the last point may be a stretch, if you don’t naturally enjoy it, but engaging in a joint activity...
How you feed your kids seems to be something everybody else has an opinion about. They think you feed them too much, too little, maybe you should be stricter and make them eat what you serve? Or maybe you should be less strict and allow them to have more sweets?
Friends and extended family can sometimes have a hard time not interfering when we feed our kids. The question is: how can we handle it? And should we?
The first thing you want to consider is if it’s worth it. If it’s someone you see only rarely, you might want to let it slide. But if it’s family or friends that you see often and who make comments when your child is there, too, you might want to interfere.
Before you interfere, try to think through what message you want to convey and consider having the conversation when your child is not there.
These are my tips:
Explain your feeding approach and how they can support it specifically (ask them not to comment, bribe, pressure, etc.).
Let them see you...
Splash. There goes the broccoli. On the floor.
Your toddler looks at you. Monitoring your response. Most of all you want to yell or throw it back on his plate. Or maybe in his face, because this is so frustrating and disrespectful to you.
I get it. I’ve been there, too.
But the first thing I want to say about this is that we need to understand what’s behind the behaviour. Most parents automatically think that their little one is deliberately trying to push their buttons.
But actually, our toddlers are not trying to defy us or to be disrespectful. Instead they’re:
- experimenting with gravity and cause and effect
- trying to get your attention and see what happens to mom’s face when they throw food
- exerting their newly discovered own will
This doesn’t mean that you should just let them do it over...
Nature works in amazing ways. Our young children actually know how much to eat (which is more than a lot of adults do, because society has taught us to ignore our inner cues on satiety and hunger).
Our babies and toddlers are smarter than that: they know what food they need and how much. But our mealtimes get messed up when we parents start to intervene and put pressure on our littles by saying “You need to eat some more”, “You can’t be done already”, or “Finish your plate, then you can have dessert!”.
Without paying attention to it, our young eaters automatically know how to eat in accordance with their needs.
Intuitive eating is the ability to feel and act on hunger and satiety cues. And usually that’s what we hope our children will learn when they grow older. But the thing is: they know already when they are young. Our job is to trust them with that and reinforce that intuitive knowledge.
How to do this?
If you were about to launch a new product, you would advertise for it, right? You wouldn’t expect people to buy it right away. Your potential customers would have to see your product multiple times to become familiar with it and maybe end up buying it.
It’s the same thing with children and new, unfamiliar food. They need exposure. They need time. And then they need more exposure. In short: They need to become familiar with the new type of food before accepting or even liking it.
Two important facts about food exposure:
- It takes 15-20 times (or sometimes more) of exposure for our children to become familiar with a new food
- Exposure is not only “to taste something”. Seeing others eat it, poking it with your fork, smelling it, touching it – it all counts as exposure.
So, when you children reject new food at the dinner table, try not to worry too...
When kids says: "I don't like it", we usually try these persuasion attempts:
"What? But you haven't even tried it?!"
"Come on, at least one bite!"
"Why do you always have to be so picky?"
But how about next time you try "Okay"? Because saying okay deflates the conflict and takes our the pressure.
“Okay” means “I trust that you know your body best”.
“Okay” means “I’m not going to force you”
“Okay” means “I respect your decision”
“Okay” takes out the pressure at the dinner table.
Which often leads to our kids trying the food anyway.
“Okay” puts authority back where it belongs: with our children.
Which is the foundation of a healthy relationship with food in the long run.
“Okay” will give our children space to be adventurous, exploring, curious.
Which will create a space where they can listen to their bodies.
What’s for dinner?
I love when we’re having something for dinner that you can actually tell what is and where it comes from.
A while ago we had bought some flounder fillets from the supermarket and I told Nora (who’s 3) that we were having fish for dinner and she looked hesitantly at the white strange-looking substance I was referring to and it was almost like she said “That’s not a fish!”
Sometimes, we forget that when we tell our children “Tonight, we’re having fish!”, their concept of “fish” is NOT what’s on the kitchen counter, because in their world, a fish is a living animal swimming in the ocean or in the pond or a little creature named Nemo who has little fish friends.
And what’s on that kitchen counter definitely does not match that image. So, sometimes we need to help them make this connection. That goes for almost anything we bring home: think about the chicken we bring home to cook, even...
We need to stop the food shaming and the name-calling at mealtimes. So let’s start by quitting the label “picky”
- It’s demeaning and humiliating (take it from someone who was called picky constantly as a kid (hi))
- It’s an unfortunate simplification (maybe they are just tired, overwhelmed, had their heart set on something else)
- The picky label is static and doesn’t encourage practice (eg. “Maybe next time you’ll like peas”)
- It tends to be self-fulfilling: Once you create the “I’m a picky eater” narrative, it’s hard to leave behind – for you as well as your child.
- We teach our kids that “picky” is an easy way out: "You’re picky, so you don’t have to eat it"