Brett Berk: A friend of the Gay Uncle's recently revealed that, while she's been down the line with her two daughters about things like sleep training, toileting, discipline, and most other markers of proper parenting, she's been a wimp about food.
When G. U. asked her why she did this, she sighed. "Food just seems so important." The G.U. agrees. Which is exactly why he believes that parents need to take control of their child's consumption habits before they get cemented into something totally dyspeptic. Kids aren't born knowing anything about nutrition or food balance. It is YOUR job to educate them, not placate them.
There are many ways to accomplish this goal, but for this case -- when children are treating mom like a short order cook -- he suggests the following protocol:
1) Order Up: Announce that "ordering" dinner each night is going to end, and that the family (or at least the kids) will begin eating whatever the adults select each night. Set a date in the near future for this to occur. Mark it on the calendar with the kids. Count down each night.
2) Get buy-in: Ask the kids to come up with a list of things they like to eat for dinner. Write these items down on pieces of paper, with simple pictures if you like.
3) Teach Balance: Inform kids that each dinner needs to include a balanced selection of elements. Color can often be a useful category, e.g. something off-white (some form of nugget/stick/finger), something green (a vegetable), something yellow or red (a fruit or sauce). Or you can go deeper and use groupings like Protein, Grain, Fruits, Vegetables. Insist the kids come up with a few items in each of these categories. Add some in yourself if they don't.
4) Make a Menu: Using these elements as a guide, create some sample menus for the first week of the new protocol. If you want to offer the kids choice, do so within the context of this balance, e.g. "We need to have a vegetable for Wednesday. Do you want broccoli or peas?" DO NOT GIVE THEM ADDITIONAL CONTROL! Also, don't be afraid of repeating things: kids love consistency, and balanced repetition is much better than having salad for dinner one night, and ice-cream the next.
5) Set a Schedule: Insist that dinner is the one and only time for consuming this meal. This does not mean you need to retreat into old-school tactics like "You're going to sit here until that plate is clean." This kind of crap is nonsense.
6) Lay off: Unless your child is showing signs of malnutrition -- dizziness, diarrhea, extreme weight loss -- I guarantee that they're not dangerously hungry, and they're definitely not going to starve themselves to death. Set your protocol, get them used to it, and discontinue all other nagging.
|Brett Berk, M.S. Ed. has worked with young children and their families for over 20 years--as a classroom teacher, preschool director, and research consultant--and is the author of "The Gay Uncle's Guide to Parenting."|