Advice for parents (particularly parents of young children): Don’t force your kids to eat food they don’t want, or make them feel obligated to clean the plate you, or someone else, loaded for them. Yes, I’m dead serious.
Think outside the box. Have rules about trying a bite–just one bite. Fight that fight. Do it by always having something visible they know they like. Use it as incentive to get them to try one bite of whatever you’re eating or want them to eat. Be satisfied with one bite, and have them try the same food two or three times in a year. Be willing to accept that they won’t like certain things. If they actually gag, move on. Don’t offer that again. Offer healthier choices whenever possible, but let them have a say in what they eat, and let them stop eating when they’re full (no desert until at least an hour after dinner–no exceptions.) If you don’t make it a power struggle, it won’t be a power struggle. Say “would you like chicken or pasta?” instead of “do you want chicken?” Don’t ask “yes/no” questions when one of those choices isn’t acceptable to you. This way you maintain the structure you want them to have while still letting them feel empowered.
Our generation is walking proof that “you’ll eat what I cooked whether you want it or not, and you won’t leave the table until your plate is clean” teaches poor eating habits. It creates adults with serious weight management issues who eat when we’re not really hungry and die of heart disease way too young.
We sit down to a family meal most every night, but we don’t necessarily all eat the same thing. Really, this is less of a big deal than you might think. My kids are now 14 and almost 12. This is how I’ve fed them their whole lives. It isn’t always simple, but I’m observing something really important. They eat only when they feel hungry, and they stop eating when they feel full. They know exactly how much food will satisfy them most of the time, so there is rarely much waste. They don’t eat out of boredom or for comfort. Food is nothing more or less than sustenance to them. They will even stop eating a treat and save it for later once they feel satisfied.
It is actually much easier to throw together an extra something I know my child will want to eat, than to fight with him and dole out consequences for not eating something he really didn’t want. I’ve got bigger fish to fry–pun intended. I also don’t care for the subconscious message we send when we say they have to take whatever is offered to them even if they don’t want it–think cigarettes, booze, drugs, and sexual advances. Kids need to feel empowered to say no when it is appropriate (or imperative!) that they do so. It’s not a concept, it’s a practice. They learn what they live. Like everything else, it starts at home–good or bad.
There is no perfect diet. There is only best case scenario. The meat and poultry in this country are loaded with hormones and antibiotics. The fruit and veggies are loaded with pesticide and wax. Most of the fish is farm raised and loaded with artificial color and preservatives. Everything is loaded with sugar, salt, oil, and flour. Truly healthy food costs a fortune and is nearly impossible to find for the vast majority. The best we can do for our kids is end the romance with food. If we teach them discipline and reward them with choice, we create adults with tools for living right in multiple aspects of their lives.