The girls both have gone or are currently going through this phase where they need to be prompted to finish their vegetables. Yes every parent’s daily struggle. When people comment “you guys are so lucky that your kids eat their food” I take a deep breath and internally snarl. “Lucky nothing!! If you knew how many hours we have spent sitting at the table encouraging good eating habits, scaring them with possible illness and guilting them by explaining real world hunger your mouth would drop. Obviously not our finest parenting moment, but sometimes you got to get real. Getting kiddos to eat their vegetables and finish dinner starts with a few habits that will make dinnertime less stressful in the long run. You and your spouse need to be in agreement to stay on the same page about eating food and present a united front at all times.
- Make healthy food available- The easiest way to encourage healthy eating habits is to have fruits and veggies washed and prepped and easily accessible. As a result when you open up the fridge to pull out the easiest thing to snack on, it should be something healthy. By keeping healthy foods front and center, you naturally keep junk food hidden or out of your grocery cart completely
- Be an example- a friend of mine told me that her husband would not eat vegetables in any form or fashion. The first challenge would be to get your husband to eat better. When our children see that we eat what they eat, they really have no reason to complain. I understand that they will anyways, but it is that “practice what you preach mentality” that gives you credibility. Keep at it and eventually you will discover veggies that the whole family will love.
- Meal Plan and cook at home- I plan out a 5 day dinner plan for our week. I try to make sure that I plan for easy meals on days that we are busy. You run the risk of going through the drive-thru after soccer practice because it is SO much easier and you did not plan ahead. I plan for at least one crock-pot meal and another that I can just throw in the oven. My girls love to help, if your child is old enough to lend a hand, I suggest you let them. They can wash fruit, put them in containers after you cut them or even mix.
- Stop the snacking- I often see parents give her kids snack after snack especially as dinner time approaches. I’m hungry too. I allow a small healthy snack and hour before dinner. If they are still hungry I make them drink water. If you allow your kids to fill up on snacks you cannot expect them to have an appetite for dinner.
- Expectations- be realistic on what you expect them to finish. Adult size portions are for adults. Your protein should be about the size of your fist. If my girls tell me they are full I allow them to be excused if they finish their vegetables and protein, I don’t force them to eat carbs if they claim they are full. They are not allowed to eat dessert if they have not finished their entire plate though. If they do not have room for their dinner, dessert is not an option. My girls also know that if they refuse to eat, there will be nothing until breakfast. As a conserve it lunch most likely will be their dinner leftovers. My husband and I have laid these ground rules carefully and my kids know what to expect.
Dinner time is stressful enough without having to cook three separate meals. If little Johnny does not like meatloaf surprise, you can guarantee the alternative is not his favorite macaroni and cheese. You have two choices for dinner 1) Take it 2) Leave it. They need to try something new.
The reason my kids love vegetables and finish their food is because my husband and I set that example everyday. We also figure out the best way to prepare and serve vegetables for them that are tasty. It can be trial and error. If you burn and dry or the chicken, most adults won’t eat it. When I want cake or ice cream out of the carton, I make sure they are napping or I am hiding in the closet.
My mom grew up in the Philippines where everyone loved anything American- the BeeGees, designer clothes and cowboys. We often tell the girls how their grandma was raised on rice and soy sauce. We may fabricate a tad, but the fact that there was not a lot to go around was very true. I myself grew up on bologna sandwhiches and hotdogs and rice. Our vacations were day trips to the lake and camping. I didn’t realize how modestly we lived. We want our children to be grateful for everything. We want them to know the value nature and everything it provides. We want them to always praise God and thank him for his blessings before every meal.
It is not easy to start new habits let alone stick to them. The first step is to be conscious of your own actions and your own example as a parent. I always ask myself “How can I positively manipulate my children today?” Then if all else fails…. Plan B. Scare the snot out of them until they cave. Just kidding, or am I?