Our year of food 2014... no more screaming! (Or, how to get your fussy children to eat food they don't like.)

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In January 2014 I began my quest to get my children to eat better. I decided to give it a good go for an entire year. If by that time I couldn't get them eating vegetables and meat and trying new things, I'd give it up as a hopeless case.

At the beginning of the year I had one reasonably fussy teenager, two incredibly fussy boys, 8 and 10, and one becoming-more-fussy-because-of-the-examples-around-her three year old. They pretty much only ate white starchy foods, very little protein and iceberg lettuce as their vegetable. (Fruit has never been a problem.)

My technique has been to always have at least one challenging thing on their plates in very small amounts, to treat each dinner time as a training ground, and to calmly stand my ground every single time. I've focused on the boys as if they improve the three year old will improve by osmosis. The teenager is taking on healthy eating principles on her own and making more of an effort, which is great.

Dinner time now has two 'levels' of eating: the first is to eat the 'minimum' from amongst what's on the plate as dictated by me on a night to night and person to person basis (eg. three pieces of carrot, two bites of chicken etc).  I don't make this compulsory, but if you don't eat the minimum, you don't get your 10 extra minutes on the computer the next day. And believe me, the computer is VERY important to my boys.

The second level of eating is to finish everything that's on the plate that night. Again, this is not compulsory, but if you want another snack later, the plate has to be clean. If you haven't eaten all your dinner, there are no options for seconds or extras.

(Oh, fyi, we never do dessert, just because I can't be bothered cooking more and because I don't think nightly ice cream or creating sugary incentives is a good idea.)

Six months later, and where are we at?

Well, we've got through the screaming. The first six weeks were nightly sob-fests from boys who thought that taking tiny bites of carrot might kill them, but now they'll swallow without tears. 

Is it easy?  No. No, it is not, but it's not earth-shatteringly painful any more like it was. I still sit and put forkfuls of food into children's mouths for 15 minutes at the end of the meal. There's a minimal amount of gagging, quite a bit of swigging mouthfuls of water with the various yucky, disgusting foods they eat, and a fair amount of self-psyching that goes on in order to get the food in, but the tears and protests have gone. I am still occasionally 'brainless' and 'stupid' according to the son who chooses insults as his preferred weapon of choice but mostly it comes down to this conversation:

Him: "I am not eating that swill."

Me: "Okay. Fine. So then, you've decided. You'll be having 20 minutes instead of 30 on the computer tomorrow."

Him: "I can't believe you just said that! You are SO UNFAIR!"

Me: *silent shrugging, pointing forkful of offending swill in child's direction*

Him: *opens, chews once, swallows* "Urgh. I HATE cabbage/chicken/pasta sauce etc."

Me: *pointing another forkful at his mouth*

Him: *eating*

Things they have learned to eat happily (and without a single complaint) include: chicken schnitzel, cucumber, carrot and red capsicum.Things they are learning to eat include: brown rice, pasta sauce with mince, cabbage, peas, snow peas, tiny bites of beef, plus much more. Oh, and did I mention a green smoothie every morning at breakfast and weekly fresh fruit and vegie juices?

The trick has been to keep challenges small, achievable and frequently repeated. Cucumber and capsicum only became part of the repertoire because it was on the plate most nights for weeks. 

And of course, it's been important for me to stay strong through it all. One falter and it all might have been lost.

By the end of the year I'm hoping that we will be able to go to our family Christmas parties and have everyone eat most of what's on offer (subject to intolerances and allergies), happily and with no complaining. If we can do that in another six months I'll be a very happy woman. 

 

Photograph by unsplash.com