Well, as they say, better late than never. Two columns ago, I promised to share my fail-safe, money-back-guaranteed formula for getting kids to eat everything on their plates. Then, as if I was in my 60s or something, I forgot and wrote a column about kids who argue constantly with their parents. Consider this my mea culpa or, as the young say, “My bad.”
Yes, it is possible to get kids to eat everything on their plates — spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, you name it. Why, in the American southeast, it is common for toddlers to eat something called livermush. Compared to livermush, broccoli is like ice cream (to me, anyway). Nonetheless, a kid who scarfs down livermush will refuse broccoli.
Why do so many of today’s kids have picky palates? Some people with capital letters after their names say it’s because their taste buds send weird signals to their brains when they eat certain foods. That explanation cannot be verified; therefore, it is a theory, and a bad one at that. So what if something initially tastes weird? When I was a kid, I thought spinach tasted weird. I ate it anyway and eventually learned to love it. My parents didn’t give me a choice. That’s the real reason kids have picky palates: Parents give choices.
Since the parenting revolution of the 1960s, experts have been encouraging parents to give children choices. And so — as in last week’s column — today’s parents complain about children who argue with them about “everything.” They also complain that their kids won’t eat what’s put on their plates: “My child won’t eat anything but (some form of junk food).” Yes, he will eat something besides junk. Here’s the simple, tested, certified, three-step plan.
1. Fix the picky eater what you want him to eat for breakfast and lunch. If he does not eat it, wrap it or toss it. Do not allow him to snack between meals, even if he’s eaten nothing all day. You have to stop wanting him to eat. He will live, I assure you. My lawyer said I could tell you that.
2. Prepare the evening meal with no consideration of said picky eater’s food preferences. On his plate, put one level teaspoon of each food, as in one teaspoon of roast beef, one teaspoon of mashed potatoes with a few drops of gravy (“He loves mashed potatoes and gravy!”), and one teaspoon of broccoli. The rule then becomes, when the child has eaten everything on his plate, he may have seconds of anything, and the second helping of whatever — in this case, mashed potatoes and gravy — can be as large as his eyes are big.
3. It will take a week or so and much complaining and maybe even pitiful wailing in the interim, but he will eventually begin eating the green, weird-tasting thing. At that point, begin slowly increasing the portion size of the green thing, but do not increase the portion of the thing(s) he loves. Keep them at one teaspoon. Within a month, he will be eating a regular-size portion of foods his palate would not accept previously, upon which you can begin increasing the portion size of things he loves, but not past the point where he can eat his favorite things and not be hungry.
Voila! The key to the success of this fail-safe formula — the variable that makes it fail-safe — is that the child’s parents do not sit at the table encouraging him to “just try” the food he hates. They must act completely nonchalant. If need be, they can feed him first and then sit down to a pleasant meal. What a concept!
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.