“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