“Just tell him we aren’t selling ice cream today,” the nice lady at my son’s preschool said to me, watching him meltdown when I said we weren’t buying the ice cream they sell. He didn’t understand that we buy it on Fridays, but not on Monday.
That’s not the first time someone has told me to lie to my child about food. When my daughter was my son’s age, just about 3, my husband would start lying “we don’t have any.” And I’d interrupt with “yes we have ice cream, we can’t have some now but how about tomorrow night?”
I don’t fear sweets or any of the other not-so nutritious foods out there and I’m certainly not going to start fibbing to my children to avoid the meltdown. Quite the contrary, I want to teach my child to coexist with these foods without going ballistic. But I know a secret many parents don’t know. And I want to share it with you.
Why the lying?
One of the reasons people lie to kids about food is that they are afraid they will beg for it or can’t handle knowing that it is around. Yes, by telling the truth you do have to know what your answer will be when they ask for it. But they need to start learning, sooner or later, that it is okay for that food (whatever it is) to be around and for them not to eat it.
The best way to get around this one is to let them know they will get it again fairly soon. If you come through and provide their favorites with some sort of regularity, and let them enjoy it, the times they do ask for it and you respond with a “not now”, they can deal with the answer.
Let kids truly enjoy all foods
Right now Little D loves ketchup and when we have it, that is all he will eat. Lately my husband has asked me to stop serving it (mostly because of the mess). But we only have it once every week or two and Little D eats a good variety overall. I encourage him to dip his food in the ketchup, like roasted potatoes, but he just looks at me while taking his hand and spooning up the red mess.
When Big A was around 3, she always wanted fries when we went out to eat. She would eat them so fast — it was like she had a fry deficiency. I was a little worried but I didn’t serve them at home so I figured once every couple of weeks was okay. I didn’t lie and say fries weren’t on the menu or only keep her to a few bites. The fries were there for her to enjoy — and enjoy she did.
She also used to eat Tiger milk bars at my mom’s house once a week. I’d hear her ask for the bar right as I was leaving. Most times she’d say “Mom, are you leaving yet?” so she could get to eating her bar.
Children will tire of foods
What most parents don’t realize is that children will tire of foods, even their favorites. It may take a while but over time they will move on from the bread, sweets, fries, or rice all on their own. It’s like a favorite toy they eventually just stop playing with. They may still like it a lot, but the fever in which they eat it slows. For example, Big A is no longer crazy about fries and doesn’t touch bars at my mom’s house anymore.
But what if I stopped going to places that served fries or demanded my mom remove the bars? If children are constantly stopped or controlled when eating, they are left wanting. I’m not saying you should allow them eat their favorite item nonstop either, but don’t be afraid to give it to them in a frequency that makes nutritional sense and allow them to enjoy it as they see fit (feeding them at the table helps them stay mindful).
I believe a key component of moderation is knowing you can eat something to satisfaction, being mindful while eating and losing the judgment (it’s bad for me, I shouldn’t, I’m bad for eating this). When you allow kids to satisfy their curiosity when it comes to food, and stay neutral in how you respond, they learn how to live in a food-centric world without going hog wild.
And the best part is you don’t have to ever lie about food again.
Has letting your child enjoy all food (the way they want) been hard for you?
Julia Moravcsik says
I guess this hands-off, eat-what-you-like approach seems like what most parents do. And yet obesity rate keeps growing and people keep eating less nutritious food with each passing decade.
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
Julia — thanks for your comment but I think you are missing my point. On my blog I talk about parents leading in the what, when and where of feeding but letting children decide how much and what to eat of what are served. Of course parents need to offer Less nutritious foods less often and keep plenty of healthy foods around. But when they do off those foods, they need to allow children to enoy it. The research supports this more authoritative feeding style vs. one that is too strict or permissive results in better habits for kiddos. There are plenty of families making kids eat their veggies instead of taking more bread and all these food rules simply making eating less fun. I make a point to say not to give children these foods all the time when they want them but instead to teach them how to eat them sensibly.
eva @VegucatingMyKids says
this is great advice…thankfully i am doing it already…it really has come down to compromise with me…we eat ‘from scratch, plant-based foods’, however we live in a world that doesn’t….the halloween, valentine’s and easter candy find their way to us whether i agree to it or not…it’s a reality…i personally don’t eat processed candy, however, how do you teach 2 young girls who see their friends gobbling this stuff up…so i have let them have a treat in their lunch and a treat after dinner (at most 2 pieces of that candy–and yes, we still have the stuff from halloween)…as long as they drink their green smoothies and eat their meals, then i am ok with them having a treat…you are so right that they need to learn to coexist in a world of temptations…and when they know when they get their sugar treats, they really are cooperative…so it’s give & take with them…(i just hope my side of the equation will null & void the processed chemicals they injest!)
Julia Moravcsik says
I get your point. There’s a dilemma parents have to navigate. In reality, food is the biggest killer (it just outpaced smoking). But too much energy on it makes kids rebel and eat more. We try to solve the dilemma by rarely bringing junk food into our house, but not “caring” if our son gets it outside. I have been thinking lately about whether there are actual exercises to build kids’ self-control about food. I just read this book, so it got me wondering. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/books/review/willpower-by-roy-f-baumeister-and-john-tierney-book-review.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
Julie Duffy Dillon says
Excellent post and couldn’t agree more!
Hi Maryann, I’ve been meaning to ask your opinion about how we feed sweets and this post reminded me. About 9 months ago we started offering our 2 year old dessert after dinner (a cookie, for example). Within a couple weeks she began obsessing over sweets. Constantly asking when we were having it, talking all afternoon about what dessert we would have that night, fixating at parties on the cupcakes, etc. I kept it up for a long while but finally grew tired of the obsession and switched back to our old method, which is having sweets only on special occasions (parties, holidays, etc) which is maybe 2-3 times/month. Her obsession quickly disappeared. I had thought that regular and reasonable exposure to sweets would make them less forbidden and exciting, but the opposite seemed to happen. Did I do something wrong? Is my current method going to cause problems in the future?
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
Hey Megan, I think it totally depends on the age and the kid. My son who is now 3 is the type that doesn’t ask for sweets but wants it if he sees it. My daughter, on the other hand, would ask and ask for sweets without seeing them. I think it’s important not to always offer it at the same time or daily because then kids come to expect it (but then again, that might work for some families). We generally have dessert/sweets 2-3 times per week at random times — but we do always get ice cream Friday at their preschool. There isn’t one way of doing it, just what works for your family. It’s good that you noticed what you were doing wasn’t working and changed it. I wish there was one set of rules we all could follow ; )
Eva — Research shows that kids end up eating like their parents and the foods they were exposed to when they were kids. So if its healthier foods most of the time, they are likely to grow up eating that way too. Thanks for the comment!
Eva @VegucatingMyKids says
Interesting discussion…I have to agree that it depends on the family because with us, treats are only after lunch & dinner…but they get to chose the treat….for us, consistency has worked….also age of kids–mine are 8 & 10…also, i think it has to do with how a parent structures other aspects of child’s life…
Now other times like school party or b-day party, I don’t influence or control, and I’ve seen my kids really not consume that much anyway….
Teaching my girls to be more mindful and slow down when they eat their treat works too…
Thanks Maryann and Eva, appreciate the advice and support! Eva I like the idea of reminding her to be mindful and to really enjoy a treat when she has it, I’ll try to incorporate that. And Maryann I might try to up the frequency but have it more random, see if that works for her. Thanks again!
This post reminded me that I should thank you. I just got back from a visit to my parents’ house, where a discussion with my dad about why my son does not have to eat everything on his plate reduced me to tears (although I should that I am pregnant and pretty much everything reduces me to tears). Despite the tears, I was confident in my parenting decisions and was ready with information and explanations to back them up — mostly due to my regular reading of this blog. And during the visit, I repeatedly saw evidence that my methods are working, like my son exclaiming that he loves spinach and asking for more, or repeatedly turning down the cookies, popsicles, and jellybeans his indulgent grandmother constantly offered because he was not hungry, and he is not so treat-deprived that he thinks he must eat those things whenever available. I know my dad still doesn’t get it, but that’s ok. These methods work, and that’s what matters.
Melissa Olson, RD says
So true! Every kid I know that was not allowed certain unhealthy foods growing up went on a BINGE eating these foods when they entered college and were suddenly unrestricted in their choices. Kids need to have a healthy relationship w/ all foods – some are everyday foods, and some are just treats. They will never have to count calories this way, just have to stay flexible with how balanced they are in their overall food choices.
JessicaLea RD says
Again, excellent post. My biggest challenge as of late is the cookies after church… we leave the service and my husband (and l3 mo.) seem to beeline for the cookies – endless cookies. Which is a beautiful thing – only tough because it is right about noon and I am usually hopeful to go home and serve lunch. Should I simply plan on a cookie ‘lunch’ each Sunday and try to find balance in the remainder of the day? ~ A new momma 🙂
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
It’s recommended that kids under 2 not have regular sweet offerings. Their stomachs are so small and growth is high, it’s best to feed mostly, whole nutritious foods. Bites and less frequent cookies etc. are fine. Kids at this stage usually aren’t asking so I would skip the cookies at church. After 2, you can slowly add some in. Make sense?