Two years ago, when my older son was about two and a half years old, I was proud of the fact that he ate whatever I put in front of him for dinner each night. He happily tried everything, and he rarely complained that he didn’t like what I’d prepared. I gloated about this regularly. “Oh, my son? Oh yes, he eats whatever I put in front of him! That’s just the rule in our house!” HA. Then karma got me, and he decided that at four, he’d go on a major food strike, limiting his palate to just a few choice foods, with green beans being the only “acceptable” vegetable.

An example of an "acceptable lunch": grilled cheese on wheat fish-shaped bread, ketchup, and grapes. Sigh.

An example of an “acceptable lunch”: grilled cheese on wheat fish-shaped bread, ketchup, and grapes. Sigh.

Could I simply state that dinner was whatever I decided it would be and insist that he eat it or starve? Yep. But I value my 8:15-11:15 p.m. hours when the kids are fast asleep and I get some much-needed downtime, and as I quickly learned, hungry kids don’t sleep. Plus, I really was tired of ending each day with a massive tantrum from an overtired child who was certain that my lasagna might actually kill him. So I instituted the “this-or-a-peanut-butter-sandwich” rule– he could eat what I served, or he could make himself peanut butter on wheat bread with a glass of milk. Surely he’d tire of peanut butter sandwiches, right?! So far, not really, but at least he sleeps with a full tummy and no tantrums…a half-victory, I guess.

I recently came across this article from NPR entitled “Selling Kids On Veggies When Rules Like ‘Clean Your Plate’ Fail” which made me feel a little better about my situation. This article discusses the benefits of just relaxing when it comes to the preschool food battles. Parents should simply offer healthy choices, and avoid freaking out if their kids refuse to finish. I have often used dessert as a pawn, even though I know I shouldn’t do so, firmly stating that “If you don’t eat your carrots you will NOT be having a cookie.” This is something I vow to stop doing. According to this article, “By demanding that children eat things like vegetables before they have a dessert, it makes it seem like there’s something wrong with eating vegetables, and that you have to swallow medicine before you get to the good part.” Oops. This makes a whole lot of sense to me. The article suggests simply offering only healthy choices and not making a big fuss over forcing kids to eat everything you put on their plate.

Our new mantra at dinner is, as suggested by the article, “Just taste it, and if you don’t like it, that’s fine.” We are also focusing on having healthier options in general and consuming more veggies ourselves, since kids really are watching and learning from their parents. Will this make a difference? I’m hopeful. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about preschoolers and toddlers, it’s that they see what pushes their parents’ buttons quickly, and they’re not afraid to use this knowledge as a weapon. Maybe if dinner is no longer a fight we can go back to just battling over baths, clean up, and bedtime. 🙂

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