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.
Why You Shouldn’t Say It: Years ago I was watching Rachael Ray, long before I had kids, and she told this story that has stuck with me… Before she was on TV, she was in the gourmet food industry, and would be giving samples out of a recipe she had made in grocery stores. Kids would often watch interested in what she was doing or handing out, yet, when she offered a sample to them, most parents stepped in saying, “They won’t eat that.” This story perfectly illustrates my point. Always, give your child the opportunity to try something new or try something again. They may surprise you, but more importantly you will be creating an open, inviting, positive environment around a large variety of foods!
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?
Spot on! I also don’t like when people say “You wouldn’t like it”, used when you don’t want to give a kid whatever it is you’re eating, or when it’s not appropriate for them to eat it (e.g. it’s spicy).
YES, love your insight!!
What do you do when your toddler specifically asks for something? My 2-year old will ask for a Popsicle or Goldfish or candy.
I make a plan to have it and if I don’t want them to have it regularly, then I don’t keep it in the house. So, I may say, okay we can have that for snack. Or, Sure, we’ll have that for lunch tomorrow. A quick “not right now” and then redirecting them to something else can be super helpful.
Love this! Totally guilty of number 5 on weak moments. I will stop doing that 🙂
Thanks Kittie, and its so easy to do!
I found your website via Pinterest. I’m soo glad to have found it. My husband and I are struggling with our 4-year-old daughter and it’s exhausting and very discouraging. She’s never been a good eater. I will definitely bookmark your site for guidance in our journey with her. Thank you!!
I’m glad you found your way here Estelle! There is a lot of information here so take your time and let me know if you need anything. Wishing you progress with your daughter.
Great article – thank you for your dedication and the time you take to share tips and expertise. As a new mom I have tremendous respect for those who take the time to share all this valuable information – we have SO much more at our fingertips than our moms ever did. My LO has only JUST started solids but I guess its never too late or early to start instilling these ideas – the only one I would have a hard time with is the Clean Your Plate one ~ though I agree with it in principal, I am from India and was brought up there for the better part of my childhood and was only ever given portions that my mom knew I’d be able to handle eating and asked to always finish all of it as a mark of respect and to acknowledge that good food is never to be wasted. When I was stubborn and didn’t comply I was surrounded by examples of children with barely 2 grains of rice to rub together to know that I was fortunate to have what I did and should finish it all, if not in one sitting then in two or however many it took :)! I guess its a contextual and cultural thing but its a lesson that has stood me in very good stead over the years, long after I have left India and the sights of the poverty there. Now, raising my baby in the US, I reckon I would have a hard time shedding that aspect of my ‘food culture’ and beliefs but I guess time will tell :)! Thanks again!
That’s an interesting and valuable perspective, thanks for sharing!
I have a 7 year old girl, her height is average but she is in the lower 50 percentile of weight, she is very skinny. she does not eat meat or chesse in any form, sometimes she chews and spits out the chicken, at breakfast she gets full with a yolk, she also complaints of stomachache at dinner time, she gets moody and refuses to eat dinner and this has been happening for the past 2 – 3 months. I am concerned about her nutrients and water intake. Please tell where could I start .
I would get a GI appointment and ask about reflux, food allergies, and stomach emptying. Also, explore a protein shake, smoothie, or pediasure. Hope that helps a little- let me know if I can be of any more help!
This is really true and I have been trying to follow these rules from the beginning. But we cannot stop the guests saying these wrong phrases. How can we make them understand our concept?
I hear you! I really struggle with this, too! I guess it depends on your comfort level. With some family and friends, I say something to them after the meal and explain that eating habits are a real priority for us. I also will correct them politely, for example: “Oh, what Pappy meant was he hasn’t tried the peas in a long time. Not that he didn’t like them.” Let me know if you figure out any other solutions!