By John Rosemond
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Well, as they say, better late than never. Two columns ago, I promised to share my “fail-safe, money-back guaranteed formula for getting kids to eat everything on their plates.” Then, as if I was in my 60s or something, I forgot and wrote a column about kids who argue constantly with their parents. As young people say, “My bad.”
Yes, it is possible to get kids to eat everything on their plates — spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, you name it. Why, in the American southeast, it is common for toddlers to eat something called livermush. Compared with livermush, broccoli is like ice cream (to me, anyway). Nonetheless, a kid who scarfs down livermush will refuse broccoli.
Why do so many of today’s kids have picky palates? Some so-called experts say it’s because children’s taste buds send weird signals to their brains when they eat certain foods. That explanation cannot be verified; therefore, it is a theory, and a bad one at that.
And so what if something initially tastes weird? When I was a kid, I thought spinach tasted weird. I ate it anyway and learned eventually to love it. My parents didn’t give me a choice. That’s the real reason kids have picky palates — parents give choices.
Since the parenting revolution of the 1960s, experts have been encouraging parents to give children choices. Today’s parents complain about children who argue with them about “everything.” They also complain that their kids won’t eat what’s put on their plates. “My child won’t eat anything but [some form of junk food].” Yes, he will eat something besides junk. Here’s the simple, tested, certified, three-step plan:
1. Fix the picky eater what YOU want him to eat for breakfast and lunch. If he does not eat it, wrap it or toss it. Do not allow him to snack between meals, even if he’s eaten nothing all day. You have to stop wanting him to eat. He will live. My lawyer said I could tell you that.
2. Prepare the evening meal with no consideration of a picky eater’s food preferences. On his plate, put one level teaspoon of each food, as in one teaspoon of roast beef, one teaspoon of mashed potatoes with a few drops of gravy, and one teaspoon of broccoli. The rule then becomes: When the child has eaten EVERYTHING on his plate, he may have seconds of ANYTHING, and the second helping of whatever — in this case, mashed potatoes and gravy — can be as large as his eyes are big.
3. It will take a week or so and much complaining in the interim, but he will eventually begin eating the green, weird-tasting thing. At that point, begin slowly increasing the portion size of the green thing, but do not increase the portion of the thing(s) he loves. Keep them at one teaspoon.
Within a month, he will be eating a regular-size portion of foods his palate would not accept previously, upon which you can begin increasing the portion size of things he loves, but not past the point where he can eat his favorite things and not be hungry.
The key to success is that the child’s parents do not sit at the table encouraging him to “just try” the food he hates. They must act nonchalant. If need be, they can feed him and then sit down to a pleasant meal. What a concept!
Write to family psychologist John Rosemond at www.parentguru.com.