“Don’t eat it then,” says the Lazy Mom. And that’s totally ok…
Seriously. The more you fight or plead to get those vegetables down, the harder it gets.
Every time you argue or coax a child over food, they win.
Every. Single. Time.
Here’s how it works
‘you can have ice cream if you finish your beans’.
This confirms your kid’s suspicion that vegetables are a nasty thing and that sweet treats are the only food really worth aiming for.
And if they are genuinely full (it’s their body, not yours) what you’re teaching is that over-eating is rewarded. You’re teaching them to stop listening to their body’s signals and obey you instead.
We are all born with the ability to decide we’ve eaten enough. The reason one in four Australian children is now measuring overweight or obese is that they are learning to eat beyond that point. No one does that without encouragement – and the two main sources are our parents and food marketers. It’s hard enough fighting the Upsize Me environment, you don’t need to help destroy your child’s gift of appetite for the sake of a few extra peas.
‘no ice cream for kids who don’t eat their peas!’
See the outcome above for bribery, this is exactly the same lesson but presented as a negative instead of a positive.
Or think of any other variation of removing pleasures unless a certain food (or all the food) is eaten.
For example, ‘no TV, no xBox, no iPad’ which elevates screens over family meals.
Or worse, ‘No bedtime story,’ which trades your love for their beans.
Even if it works, using threats means you probably won’t like yourself very much.
‘you’re not leaving the table until that plate is clean’.
Sure, we’ve all heard stories of how someone’s dad stuck with that until the kid fell asleep or, more likely, sobbed their way through the final disgusting cold mouthful and ‘never tried that on again’.
HELLO lifetime of emotional eating issues!
What a sucky thing to do to a kid. And why do it? Why are you so angry?
Is your child chronically underweight? Are you about to enter a fallout shelter and this is their final fresh meal before the Zombie Apocalypse? Are the Food Police going to arrest the family if your kids don’t lick their plates clean?
Exactly why are you so afraid of wasting food?
Are you just repeating what your baby boomer parents told you? And were they just repeating what their Great Depression era parents told them?
Statistically speaking, your child is more likely to be overweight than underweight and all you’ve delivered is a powerful lesson in ignoring your body’s appetite and gorging to please someone else.
There’s another message here too, and I felt SO STUPID when I realised it about my own children… If our kids are consistently leaving food behind on their plates it’s because we’re giving them too much food. That’s just one of the reasons I now advocate letting children serve themselves from a central plate, or if that’s not practical, standing with you as you serve and telling you when to stop.
You will always lose
Sometimes your kid wins. Sometimes they lose. But believe me when I say YOU lose. Every time.
You damage your kid. Maybe only a little bit, but was it worth it?
You damage your self-esteem as a parent. And aren’t there enough other ways of doing that already?
You maybe get a couple more mouthfuls of food down their gullet. How sure are you they needed it?
You wreck dinner. Again. Make no mistake here – it’s not the peas that are destroying the peace, it’s your fixation on getting ‘one more spoonful’ swallowed.
I know how this feels: I’ve tried all these methods with my own kids, watched my husband do the same, and for more than a decade I’ve been talking to other parents and reading hundreds of science-y studies on the topic.
Get a meals mindset
The thing that blew my mind, and maybe yours too, is that you need to do the exact opposite of what you think you should do.
Stop thinking, if they’d just eat their peas we could actually enjoy dinner.
Start thinking, if we just enjoy dinner, they’ll actually eat more peas.
Because they will.
I’ve written more (quite a lot more actually) about this in The Flawsome Family Mealbook.