“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, not Mondays.
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 kids 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 (see Why it’s Okay to Say No to Your Child About Food).
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 other times. Of course, 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 parents should allow children to eat their favorites nonstop either, but they shouldn’t be afraid to serve them in a frequency that makes nutritional sense and allow kids to enjoy as they see fit (feeding them at the table — and with structure — helps them stay mindful).
I believe the key components 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?
Got a picky eater? Check out Maryann’s book From Picky to Powerful: The Mindset, Strategy, and Know-How You Need to Empower Your Picky Eater
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Catherine @ Making Meal Time says
Great post. It’s so easy to forget how quickly children change and that, before you know it, what they once loved will be old hat, even with food. I wrote a post with my two tips for raising healthy eaters here:
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
Thanks Catherine…nice post. Just shared on facebook!
Wow, thanks for this article, it really struck a chord with me! My son is only 16 months old but has always been really into his food, and I have to judge when I think he’s too full else he’ll just keep eating and eating until he has a tummy ache. Obviously he’s too young to properly understand, but we’re working on him being around food without having to eat it. Last week he had breakfast at his grandparents’ house and then half an hour later my niece was (for some reason, at breakfast-time) eating a sandwich in the lounge, quite unobtrusively, but he started going crazy because she had a sandwich and he didn’t, even though there’s no way he can have been hungry, and he had such a tantrum that my mum ended up giving him a bread stick, even though she knows my rules on snacking.
I’m not too worried about his diet as I make sure he eats healthily on a day-to-day basis and only has treats on special occasions (also, he’s still young enough to accept various fruits as treats if I announce them in the right tone of voice!) But this isn’t the first time he’s insisted on eating just because somebody else is. My husband often comes home late from work, after we’ve had dinner, and he can’t have dinner himself until our son has gone to bed as he hovers around him, begging for scraps! Hopefully we can teach him that the presence of food doesn’t necessarily mean that it must be eaten as soon as possible.
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
18 months can be a tough age. The key is to keep the structure and also let him eat until satisfaction. Let him know, the times he can’t eat, when he will eat again. “I know you want some of that sandwich but we just ate, you’ll get a snack in 2 hours.” My son had trouble at that age too but gradually understood.
So I started feeding my daughter in this Ellyn Satter style 1 year ago and it has been an amazing thing to watch. Without any pressure or tension at all my girl has tried foods she would have never even looked at before. Last night she ate a couple bites of cabbage that was in a soup and said, “hmm, cabbage is kinda yummy and mostly yucky,” so she sipped the broth, said she was full and happily went on her way. It’s been a wonderful change, I’ve loved witnessing it. She’s relaxed around food and hardly thinks of it between meals.
However I continue to struggle when she eats a much larger portion of “junk foods” then other kids. At home I have a pretty healthy array of foods, our favorite treats are dark chocolate and ice cream. I’ve recently bought “fruit” snacks because my daughter was so enthralled by them, that I decided to have them at home to try to take them off their pedestal. While she doesn’t hardly ask me for them very often anymore, if we have them for a snack, she’ll eat 5 or 6 packages of them. I always wonder if I’m doing things right especially when people make comments like, “wow, she really liked the goldfish crackers/cookies/marshmallows etc,” said with a nervous smile. My girl enjoys eating, but I’m frustrated that kids that grow up with “junk food” constantly at their disposal, don’t seem to care about it near as much as my daughter. She eats a wide variety of foods and really seems to enjoy what I make at home. Thoughts? It sounds like you’ve been through similar experiences in this post. I just want to set her up for a healthy relationship with food for life and I haven’t quite got to a “fearless feeding” state of mind yet.
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
Marci — My kids too will eat more of a food they haven’t had in a while or that I don’t serve. I think that’s normal. It’s important to remember that kids that grow up with just one kind of food — fast food and processed items — aren’t learning to have a taste for whole foods. The extremes generally don’t work — whether the diet is all healthy or all junk (in my opinion). It’s funny but sometimes when kids come to my house that are used to eating all the time (like having a snack drawer with snack type foods) tend to ask for food the whole time and I have to let them know we eat at certain times.
I really enjoyed this post. Even though I don’t have any kids yet (one day!:)), I used to work with children and their parents would do this. Developing a good, healthy relationship with food is key! 🙂