A good friend mentioned to me in an email the other day that she may be guilty of enabling her kids to be picky eaters. After taking in the context of her comment, I decided that I disagreed. In fact, I thought she was acting as a responsible parent. This got me thinking…am I a picky eater enabler? Should I make my kids eat what I eat or not eat at all? I don’t want to fall into the trap of becoming my family’s short order chef. But I also don’t think food should be put on an “eat this or else” plate. Where is the line?
Let me give you a specific example. Let’s say one evening for dinner I cook fish, mashed potatoes and zucchini. I know my kids don’t like any of the food I am preparing, but I serve it anyway. Maybe they taste it, maybe they don’t. Maybe they can’t stand the smell of the fish or the consistency of the mashed potatoes. Whatever their reasons, they won’t eat. I tell them that’s what’s for dinner, like it or leave it. They choose to leave it claiming that they are not hungry. They leave the table in a bad mood with their plates untouched. Fifteen minutes later it is dessert time. The kids come bounding in for dessert and want seconds. Soon it is bedtime and the kids want snacks. I give then some cheerios. They are still hungry so I give them apple slices.
Have I won the battle? I cooked one meal, yes. But my kids ate dessert, cheerios and apples for dinner. Meal time was about unhappily looking at food they didn’t want to eat, disobeying my commands to take a bite, and leaving the table feeling hungry and dissatisfied. Then moments later, they return to the kitchen whining for more food.
Here is an alternative scenario to the above example. Let’s say I cook fish, rice (instead of mashed potatoes) and zucchini as well as broccoli. I know my kids do not like to eat fish or zucchini but I also know they love rice and broccoli. I offer them a taste of the fish and zucchini. Maybe they taste it, or maybe they give it a big “yuck.” Then I fill their plates with rice and broccoli and make a mental note to have a protein they like at dinner tomorrow. The kids happily eat the food that they like while watching my husband and I eat the additional food items that they refused. Everyone leaves the table with clean plates, feeling full and satisfied. When it is time for dessert, the kids eat one portion and do not ask for more food before bedtime.
Am I enabling my kids to be picky eaters because I am catering the dinner menu to their likes and dislikes? Some might say yes. But I say no. Catch phrases always sound great when I hear them by themselves but when put into play in real life, they don’t always hold up. My goal for dinner is to have some food on the table that I know everyone will eat. Everyone doesn’t need to eat EVERYTHING on the table. But everyone does need to eat SOMETHING. My job is to make sure there is something for everyone.
Kids get hungry. Kids need to eat. Kids need to consume food with nutritional value. Eating should be a positive experience which should leave kids feeling satisfied with what they have consumed. My job as a parent is to build-up my child’s confidence in eating good food while slowly expanding her tastes into new territory. Some kids naturally try new food while others tend to want to eat the same thing over and over again.
I don’t think I am enabling my kids to be picky eaters. Instead, I am making sure that everyone has something nutritious to eat while instilling a little bit of meal time confidence. Helping kids develop a positive relationship with healthy food, even if their repertoire is limited, is more important than getting them to taste new food. So go ahead and make your kids’ favorite healthy dish. Just keep trying the unfamiliar food without forcing the issue.