A few years ago, Jerry Seinfeld’s wife, Jessica Seinfeld, released a book called Deceptively Delicious. The book was an overnight hit, in large part because of her celebrity name and being booked on every major talk show as a cooking guest for a month straight. For a few weeks, you couldn’t turn on the TV without hearing about her book.
Like many Moms, I bought the book thinking this would be the perfect solution to getting my own picky three eaters to stop spitting out their spinach, gagging on their broccoli and feeding green beans to the dog when my back was turned (yes, that happened). My little ones didn’t always despise vegetables. As babies, they happily gobbled down whatever pureed food I spooned into their little mouths. But, as the toddler years set in, everything changed. Around age two, kids learn more about choices and the word ‘NO’ which they emphatically exercise their right to use frequently.
After months of trying it Mrs. Seinfeld’s way – cooking, pureeing and hiding vegetable in my kids’ meals (cauliflower in mac n’ cheese and carrots in pasta sauce), I decided there had to be a better way. I had to stop the subterfuge and hiding behind the food processor. I was determined to put a solid, single piece of broccoli on my children’s plates and have them eat it and…smile.
Here are the three golden rules I lived by:
One Bite Rule. It takes 10 to 15 tries before a child will actually eat – and even like – a new food. Each child was required to eat one bite of each item on their plate at every meal: breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack. A vegetable was incorporated into each one. Spinach in eggs (just one leaf!), raw carrots with their Goldfish (they almost blend in!) and cauliflower with their tater tots (brown them to a crisp and they could almost be twins!)
Learn to Cook. Each night one child was Mom’s ‘helper’ in the kitchen. Even on stools barely able to reach the counter, each one was sous chef for a day. Snapping green beans, peeling potatoes (required a lot of supervision) and when they were older, chopping. As I made them a part of the meal prep, not simply just eating it, they gained an appreciation for what it took Mom (and Dad) to make meals and opened up discussions on nutrition. Bonus: measuring cups teach math! Score one big win for Mom.
Knowledge is Power. There are a lot of amazing books out there about healthy eating that kids will really enjoy. Our two favorites were To Market, To Market by Nikki McClure and The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman.We incorporated these books at bed time reading which led to conversations about food, even if it was in a silly way, and talked about how important nutrition and exercise are to a healthy body.
Fast forward over five years later, and we still have pickiness (no tomatoes for the youngest) and challenges (no one likes to be Mom’s sous chef anymore, but they can all cook if they get hungry enough!). Despite the ongoing battles, I’m glad I instilled these rules when I did and I now see it definitely changed to the course of events during their formative years.
As parents, we’ve all had ‘those days.’ Times when our little ones just seem to be melting down, acting out, or just simply not listening to us. We’ve all been ‘that parent’ in the supermarket, juggling a baby in a car seat and trying to check out with a full shopping cart while having a toddler screaming and throwing a tantrum. We cannot help but wonder how to prevent this behavior and turn the little tantrum into the docile, happy child we normally see.
The fact is, children do best with structure, like a clear rules and a daily routine. Structure is about a child’s emotional and physical safety. It’s less about rules and discipline and more about helping teach children how to navigate their world, to know what they can expect, what’s expected of them and how to behave appropriately in certain situations. Children thrive in an environment where they feel safe, nurtured and capable. Structure helps a child learn how to handle their emotions. Developing self-responsibility helps children understand limits and making responsible choices on their own. These are important skills needed all throughout their lives and teaching them early on helps them grow intellectually and emotionally.
What’s the best way to make certain there’s enough structure in a child’s life? Start with their routine. Are they going to sleep and waking at about the same time each day? Eating meals and having play time at regular intervals? Do they listen and understand that it’s time to transition from one activity to another? If your child has a difficult time adjusting the change, try helping them countdown to the activity. For example, if they’re playing and it’s nearly time to leave for school, remind them they have ten minutes left of play, five minutes, etc. In addition, make certain they know it’s their responsibility to help get ready for the event, such as putting their toys in a basket to clean up, or get their shoes and coat out of the closet. Remember: part of routine is consistency! Try and keep to the same schedule as much as possible.
But what about those meltdowns? Of course they happen even to the best behaved and even tempered children. What should a parent do? One way parents can manage is to let children know there will be consequences for misbehavior. Lots of parents use the time out system. One of the reasons time outs work well and are so tried and true is because children who are upset and ‘melting down’ are removed from the situation which gives them time to calm down and think. Once a child is calm, then it’s the time to talk about the situation that just occurred in short, simple language. Mom or Dad can explain why that behavior wasn’t OK and ask the child to tell them what they would do differently next time. When children are older, or elementary school age, a good task is to ask the child to write down how their behavior was inappropriate and how they could handled the situation differently.
The bottom line is, keep your chin up, Mom and Dad! Good parenting is hard work, but with love and dedication, you’ll see your little ones thrive.