Before kids, I was so smug. I just knew that when I became a mom I wouldn’t be a line-cook like all of those other moms I knew. No, my children were going to eat whatever my husband and I ate and be immersed in a rich variety of cuisine. I wouldn’t be one of those moms cutting the crust off of sandwiches or serving butter noodles night after night. My children would eat a varied menu, created lovingly by me every night—there would be not be a picky eater in my home.
Fast forward to a few years later. I’m in the kitchen with two hungry toddlers screaming at my legs, hastily cooking bow-tie noodles for my daughter, defrosting frozen waffles for my son, and reheating leftover chicken for my husband and me.
How did this happen?
As any mom on the planet knows, getting children to eat healthy foods can be a battle. When they are babies and just beginning solids, they are eager to try avocados, sweet potatoes, or even kale. However, once the toddler years hit and “no” becomes part of their vocabulary, many moms–myself included—are willing to feed their kids anything as long as they are eating. Peanut butter straight from the jar, dry Cheerios, pasta with no sauce, chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs, even McDonald’s–I was trying any and everything as long as my children were willing to eat it.
As any mom on the planet knows, getting children to eat healthy foods can be a battle. When they are babies and just beginning solids, they are eager to try avocados, sweet potatoes, or even kale. However, once the toddler years hit and “no” becomes part of their vocabulary, many moms–myself included—are willing to feed their kids anything as long as they are eating.
Then, I read the book French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon, an easy-to-read memoir of sorts that explores how the French manage to feed children without endless battles and struggles with picky eating. Le Billon, a Canadian living in France with her husband and two picky eater children, breaks down simple strategies that are ingrained in French culture when it comes to food.
Not wanting my life to be dominated by picky eaters, I implemented five of Le Billon’s strategies, and let me tell you, they worked wonders for our home. Here’s what I did:
1. Keep a scheduled mealtime routine
I learned quickly that mealtime needs to be structured and that it needs to be adhered to even when we’re on vacation or having off-days. My children eat breakfast every morning at 8, lunch at 11:30, and then dinner as a family promptly at 6 p.m.. They only snack once per day, at 3:30 in the afternoon, and it can only be a fruit or a vegetable. During the summer months, they snack twice per day, at 10am and 3:30 p.m.
By keeping snacking minimal, my children are more inclined to eat what I prepare for them at mealtimes. Also, having a set schedule helps them to know what to expect, and they’ll know not to ask for a cookie 10 minutes before dinner.
2. You don’t have to like it, but you have to try it
This was a great takeaway from Le Billon’s book. I now tell my children that before they complain that they don’t like something, they must try it first. My son is notorious for looking at something and then automatically declaring that he doesn’t like it. However, as soon as he tries a small bite, he realizes that it’s not so bad. He may even take another bite or he may not. But as long as he tries it, I call that a success.
3. Introduce new foods slowly
I absolutely love eating artichokes, and I really wanted my children to love them too. Le Billon notes that in order to introduce new foods to your children, it must be done little by little. For instance, I made a small artichoke one night for dinner and served it as a side dish. The main dish was a chicken dish that I knew they loved. And because my children have to try a bite of everything before saying no (see #2), they were introduced to its taste in a manageable way. Then, a week later I serve it again, and again a week after that. Slowly but surely, they are introduced to the taste of the artichoke, and before long, we are eating artichokes as a main dish once a week. In fact, it’s one of their favorite vegetables now.
4. It’s OK to feel hunger
When my children were babies I was so worried about them going hungry that I fed them constantly. This went on well into toddlerhood. Then, I realized that it’s OK for them to feel hungry every now and again. I’m not talking about the epidemic of childhood hunger, which affects millions of children worldwide. What I mean is, if I know that my child has had a proper breakfast, lunch, and snack and then tells me she’s “starving” at 4:30 in the afternoon, I know that it’s OK to make her wait to eat until dinnertime.
Is it easier to give her some Goldfish crackers or a mozzarella stick to stop her whining? Yes, absolutely. But I try my best not to give in. When this happens, I simply say, “Good! That means you’ll really enjoy your dinner tonight.”
4. Make mealtime fun
We try our best to always sit at the table for every meal. There are no phones, tablets, or other distractions at mealtime. If someone doesn’t want to eat what I’ve served, then they simply must wait until the next mealtime. There is no yelling, no bribing, or negotiating. It’s as simple as that. We talk, take our time, and allow ourselves to really enjoy what we’re eating.
5. Limit eating out
I’m not going to lie, eating mostly at home for every meal is a lot of work. It takes a lot of planning and time. I do allow myself to take a break once a week (preferably Friday or Saturday night) and order pizza for the family. Cooking a majority of our meals helps to ensure that my family’s nutrition is on the right track and that they’re being introduced to a wide variety of foods.
These simple strategies have transformed the way my children view food. I can honestly say that we haven’t had a struggle with mealtime in years. If you had told me four years ago that my children would love eating broccoli, spinach, asparagus, and artichokes, I would have laughed so hard that it would have caused a serious hernia.
If it can work for us, I’m hopeful it can work for your family too!