As the mother of a headstrong 6-year-old boy, I can confidently tell you that nothing in my life has caused me the same amount of stress as trying to get him to eat well.
I can't tell you how many hours I spent pleading and bribing my son to just take one bite of whatever I had made. The meal usual ended in tears -- mine, not his.
I read books, I cut his food into cute little shapes and nothing seemed to work.
What I didn't realize is how simple getting him to eat well could be. I was pulling my hair out for nothing. If you are struggling at all with getting your little one to eat, read on brave parent, it can be easier than you think!
1. Start small. Don't present your child with something they've never eaten before and expect them to gobble it up first try. Go slow and don't expect instant results. In my experience, trial by fire when it comes to food only results in you getting burned. At each meal, fill the majority of his/her plate with foods they recognize, then introduce one new food along side them. Maybe your little one love PB&J, so make them a sandwich and throw some kiwi slices on the side. That way, they are not totally caught off guard with the new food and have something familiar to munch on.
2. Use the "three bite" rule. For me, this rule only really started to work when my son was 3 years old. I could rationalize far easier with him at this age. "All you have to do is take three bites buddy, and then you're all done." If he asked me for more after that, then I had basically won gold in the mom Olympics. If not, then I lived to fight another day. Now that he's older we've graduated to the "five bite" rule. Decide what works best with your kids, but be sure to be consistent. This is a non-negotiable rule.
3. Be patient with them and yourself. I remember being so excited when I could finally start feeding my little guy solids. I imagined mealtimes would be just like they are on TV. I would careen an airplane spoonful of something vibrant and delicious towards my boy who waited in his chair, mouth open ready to devour whatever I gave him. In reality, meals were the most stressful part of my day, ending with me cleaning up far more dinner off the floor than ever made it into his mouth.
What I eventually figured out about the whole situation was that if I kept my cool, so did he. The three bite rule became marshal law. I didn't have to yell about it, there were no negotiations, I very clearly laid out the rules and he began to follow them.
4. Let go of the guilts. Release the thoughts in your brain that tell you you're doing your children a huge disservice if they don't eat an organic salad at each meal. Let go to the need to give your children the perfect upbringing filled with green juice and kombucha. Your kids are going to occasionally eat crackers and a banana for dinner and that's ok. Life will go on. As long as it's not crackers and a banana everyday- you're doing just fine.
5. Know that it will all work itself out. Our kids get older and more adventurous and so do their taste buds. Rest assured, it get easier. If I could go back in time and talk to myself as the mother of a stubborn 2-year-old boy who refused to eat his sweet potato I'd tell her to relax and not sweat the small stuff so much. It will come. He will grow to be happy and healthy and will soon enough be eating you out of house and home. He's now 6 and sweet potatoes happen to be one of his favorites.
6. Keep trying. I used to look to my friends whose kids would happily chow down on kale salads and quinoa and think how did they do that?! The answer was so very simple -- I couldn't believe it. Their kids ate all of the amazing foods that their parents did, BECAUSE their parents did. It really is a case of leading by example. If you make the food available to your kids, they will eat it. Think about it: You grew up eating the foods that your parents and family members made for you and they are probably still some of your favorites. All you have to do is make your children the kinds of food you want them to eat and make them consistently.
So, the next time you sit down with your children and they refuse to eat what you've put in front of them, remember this: The days are long, but the years are short. There is no magic spell, there is no secret that all of the other parents know and aren't telling you. Be patient and persistent and offer your children healthy, wholesome foods. They will eat them because you do and who knows, maybe you'll both get a little bit healthier in the process.