Friday, May 6, 2011

Children, Don't need a short order cook...

I wrote this post as a participant in the Eat, Play, Love blog carnival hosted by Meals Matter and Dairy Council of California to share ideas on positive and fun ways to teach children healthy eating habits. A list of other registered dietitians and moms who are participating in the carnival will be listed at the bottom of this post or can be found on Meals Matter.

When my boys were very little, I made the mistake of serving each child a different meal. I felt like I was doing the right thing at that time because I was serving each child something that they liked, but in retrospect I was doing them and myself a disservice. I was not only exhausting myself but I was raising children who wouldn't try anything new. I decided to change my ways and now my children are very adventurous eaters. In the beginning, it was hard to tell the boys that what I cooked for dinner was everyone's dinner and that I would not be preparing anything else. My husband helped to support me and reassure me that our children would not starve and would eat when they were hungry.

I don't know where I heard or read the following statement, "it can take up to 12-15 times for a new food to be offered before a child will accept it", but I firmly believe it to be true. There are many meals that I have had to serve over and over again before my children would accept them in our family's meal rotation. I have one son who for a very long time wouldn't eat anything in a red sauce, so each time I served chili or spaghetti he would not eat. After repeatedly being exposed to red sauces, he decided to just "poke" a few bites of food and would nibble on it. Later, he took bites. Now he gobbles it down, red sauce and all!

Another way to get children to eat things they might not usually try is not labeling each thing. Just last night, we were having homemade chicken pot pie that had mixed vegetables in it. One of my sons saw a lima bean and said, "not sure what this is but I am going to try it and said he liked it!" I wonder though if I would have told him if it was a lima bean if he would have said, "YUCK!" and not even tried the new food.

My husband and I decided that since we like to eat a very culturally diverse and flavorful diet then our children should also. I also believe that children will want to try new foods when they observe their parents eating them. When our boys were younger we would wait until they had been fed a boring, bland dinner and then we would have sushi or a spicy Mexican, Indian or Thai meal. After a few times, having our dinner almost stolen off our plates by boys curious about new flavors we started sharing our love of ethnic foods. Now our children beg for exotic dishes like sushi and eel rice.

To all the Moms out there that work so hard to get dinner on the table, don't take it personally because even the best of eaters can turn their noses up at what used to be their favorite meal.
So don’t give up! Keep exposing your child to new foods and returning old favorites to the dinner table and before long, you’ll have a child who eats without an argument.

Don’t stop here! Join the carnival and read other Eat, Play, Love blogs from dietitians and moms offering the best advice on raising healthy eaters. And if you don’t get enough today, for more positive, realistic and actionable advice from registered dietitian moms, register for the free, live webinar Eat, Play, Love: Raising Healthy Eaters on Wednesday, May 18.

The Best-Kept Secret for Raising Healthy Eaters, Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD
Feeding is Love, Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN
5 Quick Ways to Prepare Veggies with Maximum Flavor, Dayle Hayes, MS, RD
The Art of Dinnertime, Elana Natker, MS, RD
Children Don’t Need a Short Order Cook, Christy Slaughter
Cut to the Point - My Foodie Rules, Glenda Gourley
Eat, Play, Love - A Challenge for Families, Alysa Bajenaru, RD
Eat, Play, Love ~ Raising Healthy Eaters, Kia Robertson
Get Kids Cooking, Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN
Kid-Friendly Kitchen Gear Gets Them Cooking, Katie Sullivan Morford, MS, RD
Kids that Can Cook Make Better Food Choices, Glenda Gourley
Making Mealtime Fun, Nicole Guierin, RD
My Top Ten Tips for Raising Lifelong Healthy Eaters, EA Stewart, RD
My No Junk Food Journey – Want to Come Along?, Kristine Lockwood
My Recipe for Raising Healthy Eaters: Eat Like the French, Bridget Swinney MS, RD, LD
Playing with Dough and the Edible Gift of Thyme, Robin Plotkin, RD, LD
Picky Eaters Will Eat Vegetables, Theresa Grisanti, MA
Putting the Ease in Healthy Family Eating, Connie Evers, MS, RD, LD
Raising a Healthy Eater, Danielle Omar, MS, RD
Raising Healthy Eaters Blog Carnival & Chat Roundup, Ann Dunaway Teh, MS, RD, LD
Soccer Mom Soapbox, Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
Teenagers Can Be Trying But Don’t Give Up, Diane Welland MS, RD
What My Kids Taught Me About Eating Mindfully, Michelle May, MD


  1. I always tell moms not to be short order cooks - it's too much work for you as a mom and in the end it doesn't benefit the child. Thanks for spreading that message!

  2. I appreciate the fact that you admitted that you were a short order cook when your kids were little. My sister was as well and she always tells me that if she could go back and do one thing differently it would be not to do it!

  3. It boggles my mind to see my friends preparing so many different meals for each member of the family. I'm going to recommend they read your post. Hopefully they'll give themselves a break and help their kids become healthier eaters!

  4. love your article - I concur - don't give up!! My children are now a bit older (10, 17 and 19) and I certainly opt for 'one meal suits all' for family dinners. Whilst they do have preferences, we have an understanding that they must always try what is served. Usually there are no issues because they are pretty willing to try new flavors. We do joke that we always have two choices for dinner - take it or leave it!!