Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Raising Good Eaters: Determine Your Objectives

It's a funny thing, this whole "parenting gig". We all have different ways of defining success. What I consider an example of "good eating" may fall way short for you. Likewise, my expectations may prove to be too lofty for others of you. And that is absolutely A-OK, either way. The idea here is to get where YOU want to be with your children. As you set out to raise your own good eaters, I believe you should start by determining your objectives.

Determining your objectives is basically just deciding what you're hoping for. As a jumping off point, here is a list of mine:

  1. I want my children to eat what I put before them.
  2. I expect my children to be polite, even when something isn't their favorite.
  3. I will not let my children be in charge. I am willing to accept that they will each have a few foods that they simple don't care for (we all do), but I refuse to let them dictate what is served to them.
  4. I want my children to try different, unusual, unknown foods.
  5. I am not afraid of any single food group- including dessert :) -but I would like to see all of them represented (and consumed) at mealtime.

Those are five objectives that I have when it comes to feeding my children. Yours may look very different. The important thing is that you have a concrete idea mapped out in your mind of what you expect, where you're willing to compromise, and where you are not.

From there, I need to come up with actual, do-able steps that I can take to help achieve those objectives... these are things that I will do, not things that my children need to do. As far as their part and how I bribe "incentivize" them, well, I'll address that next week.

Here's how my steps might look:

1. I want my children to eat what I put before them, therefore...
  • a. I will serve them small, manageable portions.
  • b. I will serve a variety of foods at every meal.
  • c. I will dish up reasonable portions for myself and my husband and we will be good role models of eating what we have.

2. I expect my children to be polite, even when something isn't their favorite, therefore...
  • a. I will model this by example; I will eat things that I don't "love" and will always decline politely when it is something I just cannot handle.
  • b. I will continue to serve my children things that aren't their very favorites so that they are used to compromise and the fact that, well, that's life.
  • c. I will not hesitate to correct my children, even in public, to ensure they use their manners.

3. I will not let my children be in charge, therefore...
  • a. I will allow my children to have a couple of foods they just do not have to eat, e.g. my son cannot stand pickles and my daughter doesn't like Swiss cheese. This is only fair. After all, I despise pineapple and no one makes me eat it.
  • b. I do not ask my children what they want for meals. Honestly, I rarely even offer choices, but- if I do- they are very specific, e.g. "Would you like a tuna sandwich or an egg sandwich with your apple slices?" I avoid asking open-ended questions. I am in charge of what goes on the plate.
  • c. I will give my children fair warning- the menu plan is posted, so they know what they're getting. Being able to see what's coming gives them a sense of control, but I remain ever-in-charge of what's being served up.

4. I want my children to try different, unusual, unknown foods, therefore...
  • a. I will not fall into a "menu rut"; I will try new recipes and serve up new flavors regularly.
  • b. Once again, my husband and I will model by example. We will try new things enthusiastically and talk up the process.
  • c. I will introduce spices and different flavors/textures from a very early age. We enjoyed Garlicky Clams Linguine for my nephew's birthday last week. Guess who was scarfing up garlicky clams? My ten month old. (For the record, my 4- and 5-year olds cleaned their plates too.)

5. I would like to see all food groups represented and consumed at mealtime, therefore...
  • a. I will menu plan. This ensures I have all bases covered.
  • b. I will serve small portions and insist that they all be finished before seconds are dished out, e.g."You may have more rice when you've eaten your broccoli."
  • c. I will teach my children what different types of foods do for their bodies-- what foods help their muscles, which strengthen their bones, which help build up their immune systems, etc. Kids are fascinated by having an active role in how their bodies grow and feel!
Those are my commitments. Is it ever frustrating? Sure. Would it be easier to toss PB&J and pretzels on a plate everyday and call it good? Yep. But that won't get me any closer to my goal of raising good eaters. Being willing to do my part in ensuring that my kids become well-rounded, open-minded eaters makes it easier (and more fair) for me to expect them to do their parts too.

What goals and objectives do you have for mealtime with your children? What steps are you willing to take? Are you having trouble coming up with YOUR steps for the objective? Let me know and I'll try to help!

Next week, I'll be talking about the role of giving incentives to get your kids to eat. (Controversial topic, to be sure, but that's never stopped me before!)

This post is linked to Works For Me Wednesday.

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