Cooking School

Help! How do I feed kids with different eating habits?

By: Tilley Creary

© Zeremski Author: Canadian Living Credits: © Zeremski

Cooking School

Help! How do I feed kids with different eating habits?

By: Tilley Creary
I have two kids, ages one and three, and their eating habits are as different as night and day. So how do I make mealtime a pleasant experience for the whole family? I'm tired of yelling at my three-year-old, who has always been a picky eater, and I don't want my battles with him to colour how my one-year-old feels about food and mealtime. I needed help, so I contacted Cara Rosenbloom, a registered dietitian.

Kids' eating habits
I told Cara about a few of the things that happen in my house at dinnertime. See if any of them sound familiar to you: I have one child who never eats and another who is constantly hungry – and they both love chicken in any form or flavour. The older one screams when a piece of beef or pork touches his plate, so I call everything "chicken," just so he'll eat it.

Still, no matter what's for dinner, he'll take one bite, drink a glass-and-a-half of milk and declare he's full. My youngest, on the other hand, will eat just about anything you put on his plate, even reaching for mine when he's done.

Kids who are picky eaters
This is my house, every day of every week. My eldest son, and I love him dearly, has always been a terrible eater. Mealtime is a battle of wills that ends in screaming and tears more often than not.

"Honey, eat your dinner," I say. He's been playing with his fork for 15 minutes. I watch as he catapults a piece of broccoli across the room.

"No dinner! Milk!" he yells back, pointing at his milk cup.

"No more milk until you take a bite of dinner!" I tell him again, using my mommy voice.

"No dinner!" he screams, eyes screwed shut.

He's pouting now and turns away from his plate. So I take the milk away and he starts to cry. Kid: 1. Mom: 0. And through all of this, my younger son watches the nightly chaos.

Kids who are healthy eaters
My younger son is the total opposite of his big brother. He's a good eater. Other than a brief two-week hiccup after introducing him to solid foods at nine months, I can probably count on one hand the number of times he has turned food away. And he'll feed himself too! What a novelty! I just put food in front of him and down the hatch it goes. Incredible!

Cara laughed softly when I told her all of this. I could tell she had heard it all before.

"Ages one and three are still young enough that you can mould them with the right eating habits," she said.

Hearing this – and knowing that I wasn't letting my three-year-old down in the "loving food" department – made me feel 100 times better. Cara told me that all of the "bad" eating habits that I've experienced with my son are, in fact, normal.

What's that you say? My son's not a picky eater? He's normal?! I was amazed.
Feeding your kids
Cara recommended that I look into Ellyn Satter's philosophy on feeding children. Satter is considered to be the foremost expert in the field of feeding children in a healthy way, and her website is full of great information on how to feed children at all ages and stages.

Satter's philosophy is called the "Division of Responsibility" and is comprised of two simple rules:

• The parent is responsible for what, when and where.
• The child is responsible for how much and whether.

This means that it is the caregiver's responsibility to decide what everyone will eat, as well as what time and where the meals will take place. It is the child's responsibility to decide whether or not he wants to eat, and if he does, how much.

From picky eater to healthy eater
When Cara explained Satter's philosophy I didn't believe it could be that easy! We all know that forcing a picky child to eat everything on his or her plate isn't a good idea – and neither is battling it out at almost every mealtime. However, if you follow Satter's tips, anyone can turn their "terrible picky eater" into a "healthy eater" within a couple of months.

"All the things you described [about your preschooler], this is how children learn how to feed themselves," says Cara.

This was my aha! moment.

"Being a role model for [my] kids is the best way to get them to be healthy eaters themselves," she added.

This is great news for all parents of picky eaters. Offer your children a variety of healthy (and sometimes not-so-healthy) foods and snacks at set times and places – and without inflicting conflict or pressure – and they will eventually learn how to be healthy eaters themselves.

This new way of managing mealtimes has certainly resulted in less fighting and frustration at our house. And I can already tell that my one-year-old is watching and learning about mealtime in a less stressful environment. By following the two simple rules of the Division of Responsibility, I have turned my mealtime battleground into a pleasant dining experience for everyone. Or at least until the age of food fighting sets in.

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Help! How do I feed kids with different eating habits?