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Let’s be honest. Have you ever felt that parenting was a losing battle? You do what you think is best, but the end result is frequently a battle and a temper tantrum…sometimes thrown by you. Lately, my 5 year old son and I have been experiencing this more often than I care to admit. He is defiant and persistent and wears me down until I start doubting my parenting skills. Yet, surprisingly, we have been doing remarkably well during dinner, the venue of struggle for many other families.
Instead of sitting down to a pleasant meal, parents are frequently bombarded with complaints about the food being served. Worn down by repeated objections, weary parents comply with the wishes of their children and give them alternatives, such as yogurt, frozen fish sticks, chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. Don’t be disheartened. Be proud. You have such intelligent children! They know that if they are persistent enough, they will get what they want. Why should they eat what is being served if they can have whatever they want afterwards?
Look at this as a learning opportunity. We have already seen that persistence usually pays off…but remember that it goes both ways! It usually takes between 8-12 exposures of a new food before people will enjoy it. So, beat ‘em at their own game. Give them their dinner and nothing else. Eventually, if they are hungry enough, they will eat it. Don’t worry that Child Protective Services will come knocking on your door – no child has ever willingly starved himself to death when there is food available.
How did I manage to avoid a riot when implementing these ideas?
- I am NOT a short order cook, and my kids know it.
- I invite them to help me select the recipes we prepare each week. My kids are opinionated and love to tell me what they think. We gather recipes from a variety of sources and they help to pick ones that sound good.
- I invite my kids to help me cook. (No, I am not crazy! I am not handing them the chef’s knife and going to sit on the sofa to eat bon-bons…) We work together to complete some of the steps of the recipe. Sometimes they help with only one or two steps, such as peeling the garlic or measuring, but other times they become so enthusiastic that they help with the whole recipe! Kids are infinitely more likely to taste a recipe that they have helped to prepare. They take all of the credit when a meal turns out well, and happily eat their fill.
For now, I’ll chalk up our success at the dinner table to my years of experience teaching cooking classes to children. This seems to be the only area in which I can avoid power struggles with my son, and don’t catch myself saying the words that I swore I would never say…”Because I said so!” He eats because he wants to. He eats because he likes it. And best of all, he eats because he helped to make it himself.
By Michelle Stern
Founder of What’s Cooking and What’s Cooking Weekly:
Cooking Classes and Gifts for Children and a Healthy Online Menu Subscription Service for Families