Family Food Rules

Imagine what life would be like without rules. As much as your child may gripe when you tell her to “clean your room,” “look both ways before you cross the street,” “do your homework,” and “brush your teeth,” children need structure. They need to know what’s expected of them in order to develop both emotionally and socially. When it comes to food rules, however, many parents feel guilty when they have to impose limits and restrictions. One reason may be that children often whine when they’re told they can’t have candy before dinner or soft drinks with meals. Sometimes it’s just easier to cave in. However, in order to provide nutritious meals for your family, you’ll need to lay down the law. Luckily, with the following Family Food Rules, you don’t have to be a dictator to do so.

  • Rule 1 — Mom is the Executive Chef, Not the Short-Order Cook:
    The title of Executive Chef implies that you are “the boss” and that’s exactly what we mean by this first rule. As Executive Chef, you get to set the menu and decide what’s for dinner. To attain and maintain your status as Executive Chef, plan only one meal but make sure there are some familiar components so the kids are more likely to eat it. It’s also a good idea to serve one or two “sides” (such as sliced fresh fruit, baby carrots, or whole wheat bread) just in case your main dish isn’t well accepted.
  • Rule 2 – Offer “No Thank You Bites”:
    One reason moms end up cooking on demand is that their children refuse to take even one bite. No one likes to force a child to eat something he clearly doesn’t want or to send him to bed hungry. To encourage your children to try new things, we suggest you serve “No Thank You Bites.” Here’s how it works: Say you’ve prepared our chicken nuggets for dinner along with broccoli florets and a side of grapes. Everyone is required to place at least one bite of each item on his or her plate, take a bite and say either, “no thank you” or “thank you, I’d like more please.” “No Thank You Bites” provide a low-key and often amusing way to introduce new foods and flavors to your family. Even if your child says, “no thank you” a hundred times, one day he just may change his mind.
  • Rule 3– Drop Out of the Clean Plate Club:
    Young children have an innate ability to regulate their own food intake. In other words, they eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. On some days, they might just pick at their meal while on others, they may devour everything and ask for seconds. Some parents establish a “clean plate club” to make sure no one leaves the table hungry and that nothing gets tossed in the trash. The problem with forcing a child to eat every last bite, however, is that it interferes with his or her own internal hunger cues, and may result in overeating lead to obesity later in life. It can also make dinnertime a nightmare for everyone. It’s your job to present a variety of great tasting, nutritious foods but your child’s job to decide how much to consume at any given meal or snack.
  • Rule 4 — Let Them Eat Cake… Sometimes:
    What kind of status does dessert hold in your house? Is it a reward for eating vegetables, strictly forbidden, or just one of the many delicious foods you offer your family? We believe the latter standing is the healthiest one for everyone. When parents promise dessert in exchange for eating spinach, dessert becomes revered while the vegetable loses respect. On the other hand, banning dessert altogether may cause kids to want it even more. Cookies and cake taste great so why forbid them? Our rule to Let Them Eat Cake … Sometimes offers a happy medium but it comes with a few caveats. While we believe that children should be exposed to a wide variety of great-tasting foods throughout the day, including sweets, we’re not talking carte blanche here. What we have found is that by making dessert (i.e., one small cookie, a bowl of berries, grapes, one piece of chocolate candy) a part of the meal and not the grand finale it becomes less of a big deal.
  • Rule 5 — Practice Good Manners at the Dinner Table:
    While at first glance this rule may seem unrelated to good nutrition, without good table manners, mealtime can become chaotic and distracting. For example, if the kids are getting up and down from the table, burping on purpose just to get a laugh from a sibling, or sitting slumped in their chair, you may have little success introducing a new food or just getting the kids to eat their meal in general. When this happens, your children may still be hungry when they leave the dinner table, which can lead to hassles at bedtime when they want to raid the refrigerator for a big snack.Consider some of our manner makeovers:

    • Stay in Your Seat
    • Chew With Your Mouth Closed
    • No Talking with Food in Your Mouth
    • Use Inside Voices at the Table
    • Say Please and Thank You

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