I have been meaning to write this post for a while now, in fact it was one of my first ideas. It has been on my mind because the language and environment we create around eating can significantly impact how our kids eat, for the good or for the bad. I hear parent’s say these statements so often and I know that they probably don’t realize that they may be making mealtimes worse. Here are five of these common phrases and why you shouldn’t say them.
1. “Oh, ‘Suzy’ doesn’t like that.” I am starting off with one that probably makes me the most crazy. I am always so surprised by how often I actually hear this and it is usually at a party when there is a ton of food around.
Also, try to keep in mind that kids need to try a food at least 10-12 times before you really know if they don’t like something, most of the time they haven’t even come close to that number (See my Basic Strategies for more info on this). Even if they have tried chicken 30 times, it still doesn’t hurt to give it another try. So what if they don’t eat it, no harm no foul. If you don’t want to waste food, just give them a small piece and encourage them to interact with it (touch, smell, taste). By putting something new or non-preferred on their plate, you are sending a message that you are at least hopeful that they will try a bite, instead of instating or reconfirming a dislike towards a food that you probably wish they would eat.
4. “Daddy doesn’t like ‘peas’.” I am not trying to stereotype here, just an example Dad’s, this goes for anyone that is regularly eating with your kids.
5. “What do you want to eat?” Or any litany of specific foods, like, “Do you want bread or cheese or crackers or yogurt, etc.”
Why You Shouldn’t Say It: Parents tend to use this phrase in two instances. First, parents will often go to this when a child is refusing to eat what was originally presented. For instance, you give your kid spaghetti and meatballs and all they do is push it around their plate. You are frustrated and want them to eat something, so you may say, “What do you want to eat?” Not a great idea because you are turning yourself into a short order cook and reinforcing the idea that they don’t have to eat what you have prepared, but can have whatever they want. My Basic Strategies page for a lot more info on this.
Second, parents may ask this when they don’t know what to feed their kid or want to make sure they are going to eat what they make. I don’t like this because it is giving the child way too much control. They are likely to keep themselves very limited, only choosing their favorite foods, and reducing exposure to a larger variety of foods. It also gives them the idea that they are running the ship, which leaves little room for you to encourage a larger variety and/or quantity of food. Instead of asking what they want, give them a choice between 2-3 foods. As children get older, I would let them help get into meal planning and reinforce planning a healthy balanced meal.
This is a do-able list, right? Erasing some of this language from your conversation is an easy fix that will make your kid a better eater in the long run. You will be creating a positive environment that your child feels comfortable, and not pressured, to try new foods in!
Are any of these going to be hard habit for you to break? Have any other phrases you think should be on the list?