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"
Instead of saying “You can’t be done, you only ate 3 bites!”, try “I trust that you know when you’re full.”
But what if they don’t know when they are full?
What if they could have squeezed in a few more bites?
What if they are still hungry and come ask for a snack later?
I hear you. We want our kids to eat, we want them to be full when they leave the table and we don’t want them to snack instead of eating dinner.
But we also want them to be able to listen to their inner cues, right? To be able to attend to their sense of hunger and fullness?
In my opinion the single most important thing we can do for our kids related to mealtimes is to empower them. To give them mealtime authority and control.
In the example above your little one might leave after only 3 bites and still be hungry.
But you have now introduced him to the idea that only he knows when he is full and next time he wants to leave the table and you again verbalize that...
Yes, I know this might sound crazy. Why on earth can’t we ask our children if they like the food we serve?
Because when we ask closed-ended question like “Do you like it?”, our kids are left only with the options of “yes” and “no”. And when facing new foods, most kids will feel ambivalent or even nervous about what’s on their plate. Which will make them lean more towards the “no” (especially if they have been used to mealtime pressure like “Finish your plate, you said you liked it!”).
And once food is categorized as “I don’t like it”-food, that can be very hard to turn around. For me personally, I remember how I hated Brussels sprouts as a kid and for years, I never gave them a second chance. Until a few years ago when I finally discovered that they can be okay (I have to admit, it’s still not my favorite – anyone else with me here??).
Instead of “Do you like...
Ever heard of chicken pork? No? Really?
Okay, well, technically I’m not sure it exists either, but when one of my daughters proclaimed that she only liked chicken, I felt like my only choice was to pretend that everything was pork. It sort of worked, sometimes at least. But what I realised was that the strategy was not only backfiring (my daughter grew stronger in her belief that she only liked chicken, even though it wasn’t true), I was also manipulating her into eating foods that I wanted her to eat.
What I could have done instead:
When I was a kid growing up in Denmark, one of the best foods I knew was fiskefrikadeller – or fish cakes. We would have them for lunch or for dinner, we would eat them cold or warm, but my favorite was actually when my mom took me downtown to the fishmonger who came in with his trailer every Saturday morning. My mom would buy me one that I could go munch on while we finished up our errands, and I was as happy as could be.
Fiskefrikadeller comes in many versions, and every family puts their own touch on theirs. This recipe is very simple and that is how I like them and luckily, my family seems to agree.
Hope you’ll enjoy them, too. But psst: don’t forget the remoulade – it’s the perfect finish!
Cut the fish into chunks and put...
And you just welcomed your new healthy lifestyle. You have decided to be a different person now, lose weight, exercise 3 times a week, quit the booze, and indulge in veggies. Congratulations!
Chances are that you will succeed. For the next couple of weeks.
But then every-day life catches up and the veggies don’t find their way to your plate as easily. It gets complicated, it takes time, you realize that you weren’t that good at creating amazing, tasty salads after all. Dubious snacks start to sneak in, and you notice that your mind-set has shifted to “I might as well just…”. Welcome to the downfall of your new year’s resolution.
What often happens when we set up our New Year’s resolutions is that we set unrealistic and too restrictive goals that we have no chance of living up to and at the same time demanding of ourselves to make the switch over-night. And when we find ourselves having a hard time achieving those goals, we quickly fall into...
My Dad always made me finish my plate when I was a kid. And that never hurt me.
Ever heard that comment before? Maybe you have tried talking to friends or family about being more gentle and respectful at mealtimes with your little ones. Maybe you have talked about how it feels wrong to pressure your little ones into eating?
And then comes that sentence. And you start doubting yourself: “Maybe I am being too soft on my child? Maybe they are right? Maybe I ought to let my child know who is in charge here?”
I want to say this to you: Stand firm and stay gentle. You are on the right track when choosing a respectful approach. Because forcing, manipulating (like bribing and rewarding), and punishing are strategies that will never build trust.
That someone else survived (!) the old-fashioned approach doesn’t mean that it’s the best approach for you and your family. Especially if you:
- want to establish a respectful relationship with your child.
- want your...