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Getting Children to Eat

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Categories Feeding, Foodie Fridays, Solid Foods, Toddler Thursday, Toddlers

I’m a huge advocate for dinner. I cook it almost every night and there is really no predicting what it might be.

When my husband and I were first married cooking dinner was actually a sour point of our nascent marriage. Scott had been a bachelor for 11 years and for 11 years he had pretty much decided what he’d eat for dinner. Usually it was a salad. . .or some take out. This arrangement worked well for him until the new wife decided that she, armed with the wedding gift, Marc Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, was going to do just that. . .cook everything.

She thought it was an act of love. . .he felt it resembled gastronomical homicide–and it seemed a little threatening to his bachelor ways. It wasn’t that she was a bad cook. . .it just was that he wasn’t used to the cooking. . .and then the inevitable clean-up. Life was so much easier with a salad or ordering take-out.

It probably took us a good part of our first couple of years for Scott to realize that cooking was my way of showing love (oh, he could have thought of a better way. . .). And, even when kids arrived on the scene, cooking was still my norm because. . .well, have you ever taken two newborns and two toddlers out to eat. Don’t. Ever.

I remember Scott coming home from work one day and saying that one of his colleagues couldn’t believe that I cooked dinner every day. I looked at him quizzically and asked, “Well, what would we eat if I didn’t cook dinner?” And, honestly dinner time is the WORST time in a mom’s life. The kids are hungry and needy and cranky and many a dinner was cooked with literally one hand as I was holding someone in one arm while the other child tried to scale up my leg. I’d then put one child down and pick up the other and continue cooking. Rinse. Repeat.

But, on the flip side, and if you are one of those mothers or fathers who try your hardest to get a meal on the table, there is a flip side, my kids are pretty much good eaters. And, they will eat almost everything. . .well, except for Will who has a thing about tomatoes. . .and sautéed fresh spinach. . .and if truth-be-told  would have Honey Bunches of Oats for breakfast EVERY DAY if it was available.

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Dylan Eating Cantaloupe

So, when I read Mark Bittman’s article from the NY Times, Getting Your Kids to Eat (or at Least Try) Everything, I felt somewhat vindicated that for the past 14 years I’ve been cooking my family meals.  (Bittman’s actually been all over the media these days promoting his new book, How to Cook Everything Fast.) He is also an advocate for home cooked meals and his newest book is about how easy it is to get something on the table for you and your family.

So, how do you get your children to try or eat just about everything?

  • Cook real food. Yes they’ll eat heated chicken nuggets until you think they’ll start to cluck. . .but you replace that with a roasted chicken (it is SO EASY) or Korean Beef –another super easy recipe.
  • Offer a broad variety of food and let them decide what they like or don’t like.
  • Serve at least one healthy thing you know they’ll like but if they refuse to eat what you’ve prepared, let older kids make themselves a sandwich. Never make food a power struggle.
  • LIMIT SNACKING and GET RID OF JUNK FOOD. This is a hard one. . .but let me tell you that kids are  finickier when they are only somewhat hungry because they’ve been snacking. Food looks good to someone with an appetite and kids are more prone to try something if they are hungry.
  • Engage children and your partner in the food prep. Teach them how to do things. TALK OUT LOUD about what you are doing and why as you are cooking. Even after you set the meal on the table tell them HOW you made one of the items.
  • When the kids are older than 3: Always honor the meal AND the cook. . .have someone set the table with real placemats, forks and plates. Heck, get some of that china out and set the table with that! Light some candles!
  • Even if children didn’t like something the first time. . .serve it again and maybe again. Babies sometimes take 15 times of trying a new food before they’ll eat it. Their palates are just developing. Countless times I’ve served something that flopped only to serve it again to RAVE reviews.
  • BE UNAPOLOGETIC about cooking for your family. Never say something like, “Oh, because I’m a stay at home parent I have time. . .” or “Well, this part time job allows me to get home. . .” I’ve qualified my meal prep with these words. But the truth is that I’ve made some of these decisions in order to feed my family and I shouldn’t have to feel that my choices were somehow less than someone who chooses to work a 60 hour week. But in the long run. . .oh heck, even in the short run. . .everyone in your family will be better for that meal that you made.

Last, but not least, there is nothing in this world better than when your child walks into the house and says, “Mmmm, what smells so good, Mom!”

(A huge shout out to my mom, Judy, who had a good meal on the table almost every night and who raised a daughter and four boys who are damn good cooks! Thanks mom!)

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42 thoughts on “Getting Children to Eat”

  1. Preach!!! :) :) I am with you, 100%!!!

    My girls are 6 1/2, and I am incredibly proud of their diverse pallate. From an early age, I used all the spices my husband and I enjoy. They’ll give you a run for your money on hot salsa! :) We can also eat in any restaurant…and with twins, they have been splitting adult entrees for a long time.

    I’ll add, we have never eaten fast food with the girls (and I haven’t eaten it in years). We really try to avoid processed food, too. I hope I’m teaching them, among other things, to listen to their bodies, not just to eat for recreation. (I’m talking to you, empty calories!)

    We talk about why we eat the way we do, and now that they’re older, I think that is a source of pride for them, too.

    I’ve been back to work full time for the past year. It’s definitely harder to manage a home-cooked meal every night, but I do a lot of cooking ahead so we can just heat up through the week. It’s work, but it’s a priority for me.

    Thanks for the post! This is great!
    MandyE recently posted We Made Up for It with the CelebrationMy Profile

  2. I’m like you and cook every night and wonder how people who don’t eat at all! I do know someone who doesn’t cook and eats out every night. But if you don’t eat out, then what do you eat? Dinner seems like a given to me so I don’t try to find too many alternatives to not cooking.

    My kids are generally great eaters too and many of your tips apply, like involving them in the cooking process (last night I had them assemble the pizza) and offering a variety of food. Plus I think if the food is good, it’s just more likely for kids to want to eat!
    Nina recently posted Free Father’s Day PrintablesMy Profile

  3. I love your point about respecting yourself as the cook. A lot of work goes into cooking not to mention the clearing up. It is very valuable for the our children to learn to respect that effort (even if it is not their favourite dinner). Great post.
    Kirsten Toyne recently posted Self Blame and Our BeliefsMy Profile

  4. My son is a bit of an arseache at dinner time, he’s fairly fussy, but my daughter will eat anything apart from spinach, I cook all different things here too, I love cooking, slow cooker thing especially! #twinklytuesday
    Adelaide Goffin recently posted Open Farm DayMy Profile

  5. Good on you cooking for your family every night!I wish I enjoyed cooking more..I find if all quite stressful and then when my little boy refuses to eat it and throws it everywhere it makes me want to cry.I am lucky to have a husband who enjoys cooking, even after a days work.Some great tips here, thanks!xx #TwinklyTuesday
    wendy recently posted What my blog means to meMy Profile

    1. Believe me. . .there have been many days. . .and even many days strung together when my children say YUK! It drives me crazy. But, more and more I’m convinced that those are stages that they grow out of. Honestly, as we reach the 9’s and 10’s I’m not hearing those things anymore. Also, try making one thing that you know they will like. . .even if it is rice!

  6. Great post! And some great tips in there too. I totally agree with putting home cooked food on the table…often. Kids don’t have to like everything you put in front of them. But home cooked dinners are better than crap.

    Thanks for some tips here. I will use them at home :) #TwinklyTuesday
    Kelly recently posted FROM THE MOUTH OF MY INTERESTING CHILDMy Profile

  7. I’m only two years old and thankfully haven’t any problems eating food….yet. My mummy has always treated me like a little adult giving me what she has (mushed up when I was smaller) and treating me no different. This seems to work. Thanks for the post – very informative. #TwinklyTuesday
    Baby Isabella recently posted My Daddy’s CufflinksMy Profile

  8. I’m of the same opinion Sadia. I am always amazed at the amount of people at work who think I am crazy to cook a meal in the evening. But I love to cook and I want my family to eat well.
    People are equally surprised that my children don’t like chips (fries), nuggets or frozen pizza. They don’t know them from home and think they taste wierd.
    This is a great post.
    #TwinklyTuesday
    Fionnuala from http://www.threesonslater.blogspot.com
    P.S. Pop over to my cooking blog, http://www.mykitchennotebook.blogspot.com, for some inspiration if you like.
    Fionnuala recently posted Camouflage Cake for a Soldier-Themed Birthday PartyMy Profile

    1. Quick clarification – this post is by Michelle, not Sadia. I’m not the rockstar mom she is; just the one set of twins keeps me one my toes quite effectively!

  9. Loved this. I’m probably a bit more of a Scott! I just don’t enjoy cooking! & I hate the clean up (not because I don’t do cleaning – I’m a fairly obsessive cleaner. & that is why I hate even more cleaning being created!) I will cook, but it’s not really my thing. So always impressed by all you culinary wizard mums out there!

    My 2 year old will eat anything & always has. She eats loads of fruit & veg & is so easy to feed. 10 month old really hasn’t taken to food yet. She is just not much of a fan, weirdly. Sure she’ll get there! #TwinklyTuesday
    Silly Mummy recently posted ‘Come On, Guys’: The Ten Funniest Things The Toddler Said Last WeekMy Profile

  10. Great post! I agree with all of it! So far my daughter eats most things and has a healthy appetite. I love it when she gulps down a plate of homemade food. It feels like such an achievement! #twinklytuesday
    Emma’s Mamma recently posted A mum phenomenonMy Profile

  11. I really wish I was a better cook! I try hard and I do cook a lot, I just wish I had the time or fairy god mother to make me better at it! Most of our meals end up being ones that need to be cooked quickly as the boys have different after school activities, but we always sit down as a family which I think is the most important bit :)

    Stevie x #TwinklyTuesdays
    A Cornish Mum recently posted The Royal Cornwall Show with Rodda’sMy Profile

  12. Great advice and good on you for cooking AND encouraging your family to appreciate food. I am hopeless in the kitchen and I am always in awe of Mrs B as she is so creative with ingredients. But I am keen to learn and I do want to be able to serve our toddler more than fresh pasta or beans on toast!
    Our boy is a good eater and we’ve never tried to make meal times a fuss, we just let him try things and yes a lot of it ends up on the floor but eventually HE WILL EAT PEAS!
    #twinklytuesday
    Adrian recently posted How to say no to a toddlerMy Profile

  13. Great tips! I defiintely have a very different mindset now with my second than I did with my first when it comes to eating. My first was always (and still is) very particular and my second (who is only a year old) will eat anything you hand him (for better or worse). Thankful for at least one child who will eat whatever I give him, but tips like these are exactly what I need for the other! Thank you for sharing and hosting the #TwinklyTuesday Party!
    Nicole recently posted Kanzashi Flowers Just Might Be The End Of MeMy Profile

  14. Some great tips here, thanks for sharing them! I have to admit that I’m quite bad for giving them things I know they like and will eat, rather than offering new/different foods all the time. I really have to start making more of an effort! x

  15. I love home cooked food and enjoy cooking it when I do. I have to admit to being lazy though. When we’ve been busy doing things during the day it is so easy to grab something preprepared to quickly fill hungry bellies. I need to have a read of that ‘cook anything fast’ book! #TwinklyTuesday
    Tin Box Traveller recently posted A morning at Goodwood Breakfast ClubMy Profile

  16. I too try and cook from scratch everyday – I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t. We’re at a stage now where my eldest (6) is getting much less fussy and will eat things like chickpea curry etc. I’m still working on the youngest (4)! I totally agree about snacking – I try not to let them have anything after 4pm as we usually eat at about 5.45pm. #TwinklyTuesday
    Lizzie Woodman recently posted 10 things I’ve learnt about boys (so far)My Profile

  17. These are such fab tips, thank you for sharing. My son is very fussy as his Dad (its a nightmare) so I find preparing meals challenging. I find things improve if we all sit together and eat. I do need to make more of an effort in the kitchen and grow more confidence.
    #TwinklyTuesday
    Becky xx

  18. Good on you!! I feel the same way, S has always had a hot meal at dinner. In fact he has a hot meal twice a day most days and thankfully he’s a good eater as well. Funnily enough, he doesn’t like pizza and pasta (the staple at most birthday parties!) but he does love fish fingers! I try my best to limit junk food and until a couple of months ago, I’d only give him apple juice diluted with water. But as they get older and they go out more, it does get tougher to keep things away from them when everyone around them is eating/drinking “junk”. #twinklytuesday

  19. Good on you!! I feel the same way, S has always had a hot meal at dinner. In fact he has a hot meal twice a day most days and thankfully he’s a good eater as well. Funnily enough, he doesn’t like pizza and pasta (the staple at most birthday parties!) but he does love fish fingers! I try my best to limit junk food and until a couple of months ago, I’d only give him apple juice diluted with water. But as they get older and they go out more, it does get tougher to keep things away from them when everyone around them is eating/drinking “junk”. #twinklytuesday

  20. Great post. We have been very lucky with Zach, he isn’t a hugely fussy eater. Yes, he goes through stages where he might not like something, and it’s taken me 2 years to get him to eat pasta but otherwise he is pretty good! And he loves veg – he would happily scoff veg down over something else! I definitely agree about the snacking thing – sometimes if he’s had too many snacks (not junk, sometimes just fruit!), he won’t want his dinner. Whereas no snacks and he wolfs it down! Definitely great advice here in this post! Thanks so much for linking it up to #TwinklyTuesday
    Lisa (mummascribbles) recently posted ***GIVEAWAY*** Whimsy Wood book 7 – Posie Pixie & The PancakesMy Profile

  21. Some really great tips here. I know we often slip into bad habits despite insisting we would be disciplined about meal times. You’ve inspired me to get back on track and cook more interesting food!

  22. Oh how I absolutely love this post! I too am a mom that tries my hardest to make sure there is dinner on the table with fresh ingredients and not always out of a jar or can. Don’t get me wrong…I also like to be taken out to eat on occasion but I think dinner time and sitting at the dinner table with my family is an important time of the day. Thanks so much for hosting #twinklytuesdays!
    Trista, Domesticated Momster recently posted Real? Housewives?My Profile

  23. My cooking dinners is my way of showing love too! It can be hard to get my 2-year-old to eat sometimes. She goes through phases and she won’t’ even eat favourite foods. My 5 & 8 year old eat really well now though so hopefully she will grow out of it. Thanks so much for hosting #TwinklyTuesday x
    Becky, Cuddle Fairy recently posted Twitter Guide for WebsitesMy Profile

  24. What a fab post with some great advice on helping reduce fussy eating in children. My eldest can be quite picky but I try and make sure there is generally at least one thing on her plate that she is likely to eat. We all eat the same thing as a family and I find that there is less fuss over not wanting to eat if I don’t put any pressure on my children to clear their plates. I need to get my eldest involved more in the cooking process though as I think that will also help encourage her to try more things.
    Louise (Little Hearts, Big Love) recently posted The futility of trying to catch up with blogminMy Profile

  25. Hi! I am also a mum who home cooks meals for her family every day as well as laying out a proper Dinner Table. I have also heard other people comment on how that would never happen in their house, but for me it´s just something I do because I want to, rather than have to. Unfortunately, having followed about every rule there seems to be (without realising I was doing it,) my son is still a picky eater :( He hates anything with sauce on it, only likes raw vegetables (very few) likes 3 different fruits and will not touch fish whatever way I do it! I have tried every trick but none of them seem to work for us. I am hoping that as Oliver gets older his taste buds will change and he will like more things!

  26. Thanks for your post. These are great tips. My little one is a fussy eater. He is only 9 months but seems to reject anything that is not perfectly smooth. I am hoping he’ll grow out of it. Each day I try to put exciting stuff on his plate – blueberries, strawberries, raspberries. Most of the time they just get smeared over the fridge. I’ll keep trying. xx
    Pen recently posted A respite from woe is meMy Profile

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