Monday, March 24, 2008

Offer only healthy choices

Dr. Susan Okie put it best- Children decide when they eat. Parents decide what they eat. Offer only healthy choices and then let your child choose. Parents don't realize the kind of power that they have. Particularly when children are young, parents control what they eat.
This rule particularly applies to dinner at night. Children should mostly eat what their parents are eating. Let your child know that he is expected to eat the healthy food on the table. You can always give a healthy option to the main course if your child truly dislikes the meal. But if your child refuses to eat from among the healthy options, simply wrap up his plate and put it in the fridge. Eventually he will be hungry enough to eat. When he asks for more food, take the plate out of the refrigerator and offer it to him again. In our affluent society, nobody dies from starvation. Every child will survive missing a meal or two. Just make sure that the healthy food you are serving is something your child usually enjoys. I don't recommend using this method with brussel sprouts (my least favorite food!)
At a restaurant, there is no need to offer your child everything that is on a menu. I recently went out to dinner with my extended family and our children. I noticed in addition to the standard chicken nuggets and french fries, the children's menu offered salmon and shrimp. I told my children, "Okay- you can have either salmon or shrimp. Which would you prefer?" My 5-year old said, "shrimp" and my 2-year old chose salmon. Everything was set and everybody was happy. That is, until my husband, who hadn't heard what we had said, told the kids, "Wow! There's pizza on the kids menu!" Right away, the salmon and shrimp went out the window. Both kids shouted in unison, "I want pizza! I want pizza!" So at that point, there was little I could do. But my husband and I had a talk later that night. I explained that the children didn't need to know everything that was on the menu. I told him that in the future, we should pick one or two healthy options and then let them decide.
Children need to have food options but parents can decide what those options are. As they grow older, it becomes harder to control. Especially in the beginning, we need to be very careful about the choices we give our children. Always remember that you make the rules- not your child!