Five years ago I wrote this post on Mealtime Simplification. In it, I wrote about how we deal with eating and dinners at our home, and I made the comment that I wasn't sure how this strategy would play out down the line with older kids, so I thought it was time for an update.
First, the quick rundown. We plan dinners we love. We serve them to our kids. Our kids can choose whether they want to eat it or not, and also how much they eat. If they are still hungry after dinner, they may have what we have come to call a "survival sandwich," which is a piece of bread with peanut butter on it.
We don't believe in forcing food. We don't believe in cleaning your plate. Our one dinnertime rule regarding food is: "Nothing rude about the food." I talked quite a bit about our reasons behind this in my original post, so today I'm just going to stick with an update.
Five years ago I had a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a newborn. My 2-year-old was the one who vomited the first time he was fed a grain of rice, an omen of what was to come. My kids are now 9, 7, and 5, and I'll be honest, it's been a long road with that middle child. He wants to like foods, he really does. He is a sweet-natured, cooperative child, not given to power struggles or generally making life difficult. But he truly just prefers plain, bland food.
We have still not pushed him to try new foods. He does quite frequently try new things on his own accord, hoping that he will like them, and over the years we have gradually moved from many "thumbs down" foods to more and more "sideways thumbs" and also, surprisingly, more "thumbs up" foods than we would have ever thought.
He still avoids condiments, sauces, and anything spicy. He still gives a side-eye to most vegetables. But every month, every year he finds more things that he enjoys, and it's getting easier.
We talk a lot about different types of food and what's in them. Even my 5-year-old can carry on a conversation about protein and calcium, and all three of them understand the importance of filling your body with healthy foods.
There is no stress at our dinner table. There are no power struggles. We respect our kids' right to dislike certain types of food, and they respect us by keeping their "eeeeewwwww" comments to themselves, and making themselves a Survival Sandwich if they need one. No one goes to bed hungry, no one has their dinner put in the fridge and served to them for breakfast the next day, no one is reduced to tears over a plate of food. Our dinner table is a place for conversation, laughter, and closeness, and it's a happy one.
I'll finish up with a success story from this week. As I was dishing up dinner, I was putting some canned pears on Parker's plate. As I did, my youngest asked, "Why are you still giving him pears? He never eats those." I answered her, "You know, one day Parker is going to decide he wants to try pears again. And when he does, I think he'll find out that he likes them. And today might just be that day." We sat down to dinner - steak sandwiches with a creamy dill sauce. First he tried the steak sandwiches. Minor victory, he usually likes plain meat with bread, and he did. Then he tried pickles, for what I'm pretty sure is the first time ever. Then he tried the creamy dill sauce, loved it, and dipped every bite in it. MAJOR victory - this kid does not so condiments. And then, finally, the pears. I knew he would someday.