Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Raising Good Eaters

Last night's dinner was a resounding success - apple pancake pie, asparagus, and roasted potatoes were devoured all around. Littles and grown-ups alike left the table with very happy bellies. 

Today, not so much. Though we ate a dish that has been greatly enjoyed at other dinner times, the boys just did not want to eat it. A few bites here and there, but that was it.

My husband and I love to eat. We almost never leave the table without eating seconds and we always clear our plates. We love all kinds of foods and we hope that our boys will grow up with adventurous palates and an appreciation for foods with real nutrition. So in our home, we try to expose them to different foods, to help them approach all food with excitement and pleasure, and to teach them about where their food comes from, how it is prepared and what it does for our bodies.

And for the most part, I think we succeed. Evan and Clayton will eat just about anything...that is, if they will eat anything at all. Some days, like tonight, they just will not let more than a bit of food past their lips. Even if couscous makes them giggle when they hear its name, and they can rarely control their excitement when broccoli appears at the table, and the last time we ate sugar snap peas, Clayton screamed for more until the whole bowl was gone. Sometimes we just have days like this... And tomorrow, they will eat again.

I always say if my kids will eat, they will eat anything. Truthfully, people are always amazed at the things my kids love to eat - spinach soup, pickled onions, spicy chili, marinated tofu, smoked salmon. I remember when Evan's preschool class did their healthy foods lesson, his teacher commented that Evan was the only child in the class who could name the foods in the pictures, who did not have to be taught in school what a nut or a tomato was. (That just makes my heart ache to imagine.)

Maybe we are just lucky...but we do have a few rules at the table that represent our conscious efforts to raise good eaters. They look something like this.

1. You must eat at least one bite of everything on your plate before you can leave the table.
Many times, this single bite breaks through their refusal to eat. If they taste one bite, they often happily continue to eat the rest of the meal. Not always, of course. Sometimes, the bite or two of food is all we get.

2. You do not have to eat more than one bite of something if you do not want to.
We do not force our kids to eat their plates. If they choose to refuse food for one meal, they will surely make it up at the next.

3. You can choose what you want for breakfast and lunch (from a few offerings), but at dinner, you will eat what is served. 
This means that we never make special meals for individuals. One dinner per night is hard enough to pull off. I do not understand how people do it when they have to cook multiple meals for different picky eaters. So this rule protects the cooks in the family, but it also helps our kids stretch themselves. Without the option of peanut butter and jelly, their hungry bellies are able to be more adventurous.

4. You might not like it today, but you will probably love it tomorrow. 
Kids have short memories and will not usually remember that they did not like something unless you remind them. So even if they turned their nose up at something one day, we do not strike it off the list. We simply serve it again and see what happens. I have never seen either of them refuse to eat something categorically.

5. If you do not want it, give it here!
As I mentioned, Jason and I love food. So if our boys do not finish their meals, we ask if we might do so. Partially, we are just gluttons, but there is actually something instructive about this as well, for our boys see us adore healthy food every single day.

Yum! I am thinking it is time for a snack.

So, how does your family eat? What rules do you have at the table to encourage healthy eating?


  1. Hey Katie,
    Can you send me the recipe for the apple pancake pie? It sounds delicious and I'm looking to try something new. Thanks!