Nutrition is no different than any other topic, and we have to teach children about healthy. Would you allow your 9-year old to opt out of her least favorite subjects in school—say, math and science? Just quit, not participate at all from kindergarten to high school graduation? Why would we knowingly allow our children to opt out of the most important food groups they need for growth, development, energy, and disease prevention? Yet this is what most parents do: they leave all food choices to the child, and throw up their hands, saying, “She just won’t eat any vegetables!”
As parents who embrace being in charge, you can certainly be your child’s friend, just as long as you know that you’re a parent-leader first—and sometimes your child will resist the structure you provide and even not “like” you for a short period of time. I avoid fighting with my children about food, and I use firm but positive phrases, with a smile, such as, “This is what we’re having tonight,” or, “I’m sorry this isn’t your favorite–sometimes we have to try something a few times before it appeals to us.” Or, “I think you’ll like this better mixed into your salad—you’re welcome to have a small helping.”
Sometimes I point out that I don’t always get to eat my favorite foods every night, but if I did, they probably wouldn’t be my favorite foods any more. To drive these points home, and teach about nutrition on a level even a young child will understand, I read two of my favorite books to my children about food choices: Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, and The Children’s Health Food Book by Ron Seaborn.
I don’t plead, beg, guilt trip, wheedle, cajole, or whine at my children about food, and I don’t reward those behaviors in them, either. The rules are clear (after you state and enforce them the first 20+ times): they can have what is served or skip the meal. They rarely, if ever, choose to skip a meal after that initial period of testing limits. Teach children about healthy!