The answer to this question is actually a lot easier than everyone makes it out to be. I've witnessed many of my clients who have changed their own bad eating habits then struggle greatly to pass on the idea to their own kids and to get them to eat the same foods that they eat, and for a while I was completely confounded.
But, get this, it's tough to hear it but the problem lies in parents' perceptions of what kids will be willing to eat rather than what kids will actually eat. It's true that conditioning for infants is important and we might have veered off course with our own diet in the past and then when we expect our kids to eat differently it creates an issue. We need to remember who knows what's best and who is in charge.
We wouldn't let our kids out to play in deep snow without wearing a hat, gloves and a coat. We also wouldn't let our nine year old pick up the keys and take the family car for a spin. So why treat meal times any differently?
When we begin to feed our kids different foods on the assumption that they won't eat the same things we eat then we are creating conditions that undermine our authority as parents. At the same time we are giving the power to our kids to manipulate us. Remember; whatever we reinforce in terms of behaviour we're going to see more of!
So, if we really want to know how we can correct our children's eating habits we need to understand that it isn't the kids who are at fault, it's our assumptions about the kids that have brought us to this point.
Kids starve all over the world every day but not of their own choice, they don't choose to do it to themselves. It is not until they become picky or image conscious that they have the potential for eating disorders. Regular kids eat until their brains tell them it's time to stop, not more and not less. But, when they have been programmed to eat burgers on white bread all the time then that is what they will naturally want. When a parent suddenly decides it's time to start them on fresh 'real' chicken, with rice and salad, it's a struggle to get them to eat.
Yes, the kid doesn't like the food because their taste buds are used to being assaulted by all the addictive chemicals in fast foods and so they may well refuse to eat it but only at first and only if alternatives are offered. So this problem is easily fixed by doing absolutely nothing. Instead of arguing with the child it is better to assume that he or she will eat what is given to them without the anticipation of failure. When they don't eat it, because they probably won't the first few times, then the parent should clear the table as if nothing strange had happened at all. And then - wait for it - the kid gets hungry because they didn't eat. So, because kids don't want to starve themselves, it's just a matter of waiting until the kid's hunger becomes greater than the dislike for the food. There is no need for strife, only patience.
The only other component here is the parent's unwillingness to stick to their guns. Kids are expert manipulators and they know just how to behave in order to get what they want. They make a sad face, they complain of physical pain, they pretend to not understand why they are being tortured in this way, whatever they know works with their particular parents they will do. When it comes to food they have probably been successful on more than one occasion in getting a change of menu that more suits what they are accustomed to. Obviously this creates the expectation that they can get away with it again, and thus makes the parents' job that much more difficult. As parents we want our kids to be happy, we want them to be smiling and enjoying themselves so we are easily manipulated by our very wily kids. When it comes to food it becomes a matter of changing our eating habits as parents as well as the habits of our kids. Parents need to learn the difference between actual distress and underhanded manipulation. You are the parent so you can create new rules anytime you want. New rule - We Don't Do Fussy!
Kids should eat the same foods that we eat. If we eat salmon because it is good for us and we like it, then kids should eat the same salmon. The very same things that are on our plates should be on our children's plates and there are absolutely no exceptions to this rule. Our failure to enforce rules and stick to our guns is as much to blame for our kids' eating habits as is our kids' ability to manipulate us to their own ends. In the end parents have themselves to blame for setting up the conditions where this is a common problem in the first place. In deprived countries around the world malnourished kids don't grumble for lack of cheese burgers and French fries, they just eat whatever slop in a tin bowl is available because they're hungry and are mainly happy to be eating anything at all. It may seem cliché to invoke starving kids, but starving kids have the same biology as our kids. Is it really too much to ask that our kids learn to appreciate high quality, healthy food? Of course not. It's up to you, the parents-and it always has been. We might not like to see our kids upset because they can't eat everything they want, but it is much worse to realise later on that they are spoiled and worse still, that their health has suffered for our lack of conviction.
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