Monday, May 12, 2014

Raising Eager Eaters

Alright, so I know I'm the RD here, but I need your expert opinion. You role: mother (or father) of a child that eats food. I'm giving a talk and I want to make sure it's helpful…

I've mention Karen Le Billon in a previous post. She wrote French Kids Eat Everything, but her newest book is called Getting to Yum, The 7 Secrets of Raising Eager Eaters. I haven't read this book, but the term "eager eaters" came to mind last week as I started to prepare a talk I'm giving at MOPS on Wednesday. The topic is picky eaters, but that has such a negative tone. Not every mom would say she needs help with a picky eater; but on the contrary, every mom wants to raise an eager eater! A side-note: MOPS moms have kids ages 0-5 years.

So I'm posting my handout here, asking for your feedback. The talk is brief - I only have 15 minutes - but I really want to give the moms some solid tips. Is it too much information to cover? Will people feel judged/intimidated? Your feedback can also come in form of personal stories that I could use to make the tips come alive!


  1. This looks great to me (father of a 6, 4, and 1 year-old). One important thing that you might considering emphasizing more is *how* to choose what to eat, and specifically, dessert. What do you do to avoid begging every night for dessert, and constant annoying questions about whether the child has eaten enough to earn dessert? Our current thinking is to have a small dessert every night that is served either right after dinner or later just before bed; a few squares of chocolate, a piece of candy, a very small scoop of ice cream, or something along those lines. The goal is really to give the kids a taste of something sweet: not enough to fill them up, but enough to satisfy a hankering and avoid decision fatigue. I am interested in your thoughts on that.

  2. Great question! My dessert tactic is to serve it often, yet intermittently. Not to compare kids to dogs, but they say the best way to train a dog is to offer intermittent treats/rewards. My three-year old asks, "we having dessert tonight?" almost every night. We generally either say, "maybe!" (which means yes) or "No, not tonight." Sometimes I'll explain why we're not having dessert, but generally I'll just say (if pressed) that treats/desserts are special and we don't get to have them every day. I've found that's its all in the presentation. If I act frustrated and annoyed that she's asking, she might keep pushing because she got a reaction out of me. By now she's heard "not tonight" often enough that it's not a big deal

    BUT, if offering something small most nights works for your family, I don't think there's anything wrong with it. For better health and less sugar, you could try adding "special" fruits (raspberries, blueberries, mango...again, it's all in how you present it) to your dessert line up.

    I try very hard not to view dessert as a reward for eating enough of the non-dessert foods, but it's a constant challenge because that attitude is pretty engrained in our society. When we view it as a reward, I think it skews our relationship with food and causes us to eat for emotional, nonnutritive reasons. So the intermittent approach should be applied regardless of how well the child eats their dinner. That helps us all to listen to our bodies and eat until we're satisfied, not just to "earn" dessert. Just remember, YOU decide whether or not it's a dessert night, not your children.

  3. I appreciated your dessert answer Alicia. I've been wondering about this lately when one night we decided to roast marshmallows and one boy had eaten dinner and the other had basically not eaten any of it. So... sounds like both boys, in that scenario, would get dessert based on your answer. We try not to make it a reward, but at the same time we do say that they need to have 'growing food' before they have sugary food (and hence our dilemma the other night... one ate, one didn't... but do we leave the other out of the fun of roasting marshmallows... seems too cruel). We don't do dessert very often, but what we have been doing a lot lately are smoothies with frozen and fresh fruit and plain yogurt and they really like that as a sweet treat after dinner.

    Here is an anecdote-- as you know, we live in Denmark and I will say that nearly every kid in Denmark (my American kids included) love liver pate with pickled beets on dark, dense rye bread. That's what they're served from a young age (toddlers), so that's what's normal. Just like kids in the U.S. eat peanut butter and jelly (and to let you know, we've served peanut butter to our kids' friends and they give us a pretty strange look when they taste it... they don't know what to think of it!). So much of food selection must be about what they're presented with.
    One thing we tell our six year old is that he has to try something before deciding he doesn't like it. And after he has, we tell him that the next time he tries it he might like it a little bit more, and the time after that, a little bit more... that way he sort of has it in his head that tastes change over time and with more exposure, so that he doesn't completely write off a food without giving it a chance, since they say that a child has to try something 10-15 times (or thereabouts) before they'll eat it regularly. We also never gave our kids foods marketed towards babies or toddlers. I always found that to be really disingenuous that parents are led to believe babies or kids need to eat different foods than the adults. I think that can lead a child and parent down the processed food path without really realizing it if they think they need to be feeding their kids "gerber graduates" or something.
    Anyway, some of my thoughts! I'm sure your talk will go great! Make sure to give us a recap! -Regan

  4. Oh, another thing.. though I don't know if this helps with pickiness or not, is that we've been sticking our three year old up on the countertops to help with the cooking since he was probably a year and a half. He's now quite good at cracking eggs and stirring things (in bowls and on the stove) and nearly everyday now likes to make his own concoctions... which are actually fairly gross.

  5. Nice presentation, Alicia! One thing I found very comforting and encouraging was learning that tastes in eating are not cast in stone. Of course we're all born with a taste for sweet but so many other tastes have to be cultivated. So just because a child does not like a food now does not mean they will never like it. I read once that on average a disliked food has to be tasted something like 23 times before it is accepted. That always gave me hope and encouragement to have my kids at least try a food--okay, that's taste number 14:).

  6. Oh, my! I had this comment above as a draft and never saw Regan's comment before I published it! Yes! I so totally agree and really appreciate her example.


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