My son stopped eating cereal for breakfast when he was about 2 1/2. After that, his choices became fairly unconventional.
More often than not, he asks for fruit snacks. At first, I would say no and force him to have something healthier, like actual fruit. But he didn’t back down, and because I value my sanity, I eventually relented and just let him have the damn fruit snacks.
That was the last time I made a big deal about what he ate. As long as he was eating, I realized that I didn’t really give a fuck what it was. And as long as he’s eating something, I’m not going to have a coronary over whether every meal is balanced when it’s all I can do to get him to eat in the first place.
In our house, we don’t sit down and eat three conventionally structured meals. So I don’t make a big deal about the difference between breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods. Sometimes he wakes up and wants pasta for breakfast. Sometimes he wants cereal for dinner. He’s not really a picky eater, but he is stubborn and likes what he likes, and it’s not worth the fight.
My parameters for what he eats during the day are very simple. No candy before noon, and at some point during the day, he has to eat some sort of fresh fruit or vegetable. And you know what? It works. We rarely fight about food these days, and he eats enough to sustain himself, which is a huge win in my book.
Getting kids to eat is such a challenge for so many families. I’m no expert, and my kid isn’t perfect, but we fight about everything but eating in our house. Taking kids grocery shopping is a huge pain in the ass, and I don’t love it, but if kids feel included in the process I’ve noticed they are less likely to complain. The more freedom we give them to make their own choices, the more open they seem to be about trying new things. I subtly suggest things to my kid. Offering two options also works well for us because he gets to feel like he has some control over what goes into his body, and it doesn’t become a battle of wills. “You can have pretzels or a cucumber, but no cookies right now” eliminates a lot of guesswork.
You have to lead by example. If they see you eating cookies for breakfast, then they will want some cookies too. When you eat a lot of fruits and veggies, chances are they will follow your lead and at least want to try them. I said chances are because of course there are kids who will break the mold and be incredibly picky or adventurous eaters.
But the biggest thing is to make sure you’re not shaming them for their food choices — because shaming kids about what they eat will not magically transform them into healthy eaters. No matter how weird I may think a choice is, like noodles and cucumbers for breakfast, it’s the kid’s choice. I just roll with it and make amendments where necessary. If we as adults don’t like others making our food choices for us, why are we then so rigid with our children? If we give them the tools necessary to make semi-responsible decisions, eventually we have to let them actually apply those lessons.
After a year of trying things this way, I’ve found it really works for us. I’m happy to report mealtime is no longer a battle. When you spend half of your day fighting about so many other things, wouldn’t it be nice not to have to fight over eating? If he wants a bowl of peas at 11:00 in the morning, I’ll make them. If he wakes up asking for pretzels, I’ll give him a bowl. Seriously, if you calm down about it, so will they. Promise.