Forcing kids to eat vegetables deeply disturbs me and makes me write lists and take risks

uh-oh i became THAT person

This video disturbs me. It came up on my facebook feed and i found myself being ‘that’ person who writes a rather uncomfortable and oppositional ‘response’, to a friend’s facebook ‘share’.

do unto others

Doing our best to be with children in the same way we may be with a friend (although some may argue they force their friends to try hot chilli and tequila shots!), but you get the drift… kindness to all, matters to me. So, i’ve decided to copy and paste the ‘comments’ i wrote in response to the video, hoping it may shine the light on alternative ways to be around food and our young people.

commenting on my newsfeed

I think it’s funny watching the wee faces trying the veges, and there’s heaps of different children, different parents, different scenarios, so i’m not sure how many people have watched it all, and who ‘likes’ which bits, or finds which bits funny, and i don’t want to shame or embarrass anyone, but it’s a bit like laughing at a racist joke (and on the inside thinking ‘that was really racist, and i don’t feel comfortable with that, and why am i laughing?’), and also i’m aware some may say ‘where’s your sense of humour?’ but

I think this moment is a great and relevant place to pose the question i’m about to pose inspired by Dance with me in the Heart.

who has been force-fed?

How many of us would like someone to ‘force’ us, or a human bigger than us to repetitively tell us to eat something we didn’t like?

spewing up

If someone made me eat mashed bananas, or tofu, or bacon and egg pie, or scrambled eggs i’d literally want to hurt them to make them stop, or make a very loud unbearable noise, and maybe probably vomit (i have this thing about texture you see). I probably wouldn’t do too well on over cooked broccoli or brussel sprouts – truth be told. I may even cry adult tears if they kept up the ‘telling’.

What would YOU hate to be ‘made to’ eat?


I feel sad for the babies, and children who are crying whilst their parents try everything under the sun to get them to eat, even tell them to ‘Swallow. Swallow. Eat the noodle.’

our ‘shit’

I also remember hearing the aspects of our life we want ‘control’ over, or that ‘matter’ to us the most, come up in what we ‘want’ for our children.

For some it’s sleep, others food, maybe for others how we are perceived, or others being successful or good??? i’m making the last three up now. But this concept really resonated for me.

If i am ‘anxious’ or ‘worry’ about how much sleep i do or don’t get, i may worry about how much sleep my children do or don’t get. If i’m relaxed about sleeping, i may be relaxed about how much sleep my babes do or don’t get. How am ‘i’ around food? Do i eat well? Do i eat enough? Do i eat more than my body needs? What is the balance of ‘sometimes’ food versus ‘anytime’ food?

joseph chilton pearse – we are the model

Our children download us all the time. What we be, is what they be. If we ‘bully’ someone into doing something (e.g. eating) what are we giving our children permission to do? Or what are we ‘teaching’ them?

expectations suck

It’s difficult though isn’t it? We have Plunket, dentists, grandparents, books, media all telling us what is healthy, what is right, what is good, what we should be striving for in order to be GOOD parents.

Then we have ourselves, and our tendency to compare ourselves to others, rating ourselves and the things that ‘are ours’ i.e. our children, partners, homes, cars, health, holidays, against the people around us.

I don’t know if our children are healthy compared to any charts, but i remember my childhood dinners, the arguments, the tension, the bribery (‘no pudding until you’ve eaten all your dinner’) and then the portioned off bargaining, two more mouthfuls, the mouthfuls being pushed and scraped to one side of the plate, like a battle – your side versus my side of the plate.

i wanna love dinner time

I decided i’d like the one time each day my children, husband (yes we’re lucky we get to share our evening meal together most nights) and i are together to be happy, to be relaxed, to be as kind as possible.

suggested alternative ways to eat 

* Overall our focus is on enjoying the meal together, developing a sense of curiosity, and light-heartedness around food, and husband and i half pretending, half real, not caring whether, what and how much our kids eat or not. We feign nonchalance. We appear blissfully unperturbed. I think we’ve convinced ourselves now.

* We are lucky enough to be able to eat all together i.e. husband gets home from work at 5.30pm usually. We eat as a family, kids and adults at one table. It’s gold! Our kids get to see us eating…what we do is more effective than what we say. This could be a no brainer, but we don’t have TV on, and we don’t answer the phone whilst eating.

* We serve the veges in a two or three bowls in the centre of the table with tongs and the kids get to choose how many / what veges they eat.

* We applaud being courageous. Courageous period. We applaud being courageous in trying a new ice-cream flavour, as we do a new vegetable.

* We don’t praise ‘finishing a meal’. Obesity is a worldwide problem. We don’t make any comments on how much people have or haven’t eaten. If for some reason this does come up we talk about eating so our body feels comfortable rather than full or bursting.

* We talk about taking as much as one can eat, rather than too much, and talk about ‘wastage’, and the fact they can have save it and eat it tomorrow. We’ve taken a leaf out of Kate Meads ‘Waste-free lady’ and now freeze any leftover fruit from lunchboxes for smoothies.

* We sometimes talk about the science around food (only if it organically comes up in conversation). We talk about food being fuel. We have an impressive tome of a book (that may have made it to the table 3-5 times in our 8 year history of parenting) called ‘Wholefoods Companion‘. It gets down and dirty on nutrients, vitamins and even medicinal properties of each vege, fruit, nut etc.

* We do our best to avoid making ‘sweet’ food the hero and ‘bitter’ food the villain, so we don’t ‘reward’ with pudding. Sometimes we eat dessert, sometimes we don’t. Usually it’s yogurt. If the kids don’t eat their ‘normal’ dinner cos they’re exhausted, or it’s a new meal, or they’re just plain freaking out, we give them unsweetened acidophilus yogurt. P.S. Sometimes after eating a little yogurt they go back to their ‘main’ and start eating that. I’ve read this is ‘a thing’. When trying something ‘new’ or ‘difficult’ start with something ‘familiar’ or ‘easy’.

* We ‘let’ the kids help prepare the meal when they ask, we’ve heard it helps with ‘buy in’, and most of the time i genuinely enjoy having their wee podgy hands dipping the fish in the egg and breadcrumbs, peeling the carrots…

* Nigel Latta shared a tip about letting a child choose a vegetable each week, and they get to research or be a part of how to cook that vege. This can develop into a wee bit of competition or at least curiosity to see who can choose the strangest vegetable. He has a few tips in that book with a slightly stink (if you ask me) title: Before your kids drive you crazy.

* I LOVE the tips at the front of the ‘River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook‘ too.

* Pennie Brownlee’s ‘Dance with me in the Heart‘ no doubt has a chapter of food.

* We beg borrow steal any ideas off other parents, books etc around eating veges e.g.
– ‘broccoli cheers (clinking and downing broccoli)’
– putting a platter of veges with hummus out at afternoon tea time – thanks Roz McIntosh Health and Nutrition for that one
– adding kale or spinach to a banana smoothie
– drinking carrot juice in the morning
– putting carrot, cucumber, capsicum sticks in a cup on the table at 5pm (eating veges before dinner).

* Note it’s valuable to share food with friends and family. Kids get to see other kids eating different food. They can see it’s ‘safe’. They may be inspired or get competitive to ‘try’ that food too. It’s helpful AND lovely to keep developing positive experiences around eating, and to look for opportunities to come together with community, neighbours, family, friends. A simple share homemade kai, share takeaways at someone’s house can be a terrific learning experience. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to be organised or a ‘smooth’ operation. Real is awesome. Throw a crap dinner party with kids. Crap dinner parties are a real thing.

* A friend Karen from The Outdoor Kids Project has just read about the benefits of eating dinner early e.g. did she say 4.30pm? At least 5pm…Karen what did you say? And what was your source?

* I’m also a ridiculous renegade and go against the ‘make sure the kids get 5 veges every single day or you’re not doing your job right’ and instead opt for a 3 day rhythm – cos the state i’m aiming for (and often fall short of BTW) is kindness, patience, ease. I figure if my kids occasionally eat yellow, brown, white food for 2 days (for whatever reason maybe i haven’t been shopping yet, or it’s the end of term, or we’ve had quick meals cos there’s lots happening, or we’re eating at someone else’s whare) but on the third eat COLOUR, then i’m winning. For example sometimes we’ll eat out, Turkish, or Indian and the kids will only eat rice for one meal, cos they didn’t want the pakoras, or the grated carrot and red cabbage. We feign nonchalance and internally promise to make them a green smoothie on the morrow.

* Whatever we do kindness, patience, ease shows our kids that that’s our shared whanau value system. That’s what matters. That’s what ‘health’ or ‘wellbeing’ means to us.

* A new friend also wrote this as a reply in a FB group we both belong to. A Mum was reaching out needing some help, with their child who was only eating ‘2 meals’, and was not able to try/eat different foods:

“Have you checked out Judith Yeabsley at The Confident Eater?

That’s totally her thing and she works wonders in a very low key non pressuring way ie she starts with just encouraging kids to have a food on their plates, not even touching it.

Also have you looked into Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility? It might help. In a nutshell, she suggests that caregivers have the responsibility of deciding what food is available when, and children have the responsibility to choose whether and what they eat of that food.

A couple key things she suggests is that you always serve at least one thing you know your child will eat, that you place the food on the table all at the same time (dessert included if there is dessert) and let the kids serve and eat what they want, with no comment or reaction from the adults about what they choose or how much they eat. So if your child will eat bread, you might serve bread with every meal so they can fill up on that if they choose.

My friend (who is a dietician actually so could be useful for you – her company is called Food Habits) used DoR when her son was only eating peanut butter sandwiches and nothing else, and he now eats a pretty wide range of food.”

hearing and being heard ritual

* Another ritual which has expanded over our parenting career following after Emma Prill as 1) sharing a highlight of the day, and then 2) sharing a challenging moment PLUS a happy moment (was that your addition Natasha Mitchell ?), and is currently (thanks Amy Board from Ocean Family Road Trip Blog) at 3) sharing the ‘lightspot’ and ‘darkspot’ and one can ‘pass’ and not share and when one is sharing all others have to listen rather than respond.

not about right and wrong

I also have compassion for all of us parenting. Parenting traditions have changed a heap since most of us were born. For example, i was sometimes smacked, i was also sometimes hit with a wooden spoon. Kids sometimes got the strap in the cloak-bay at Primary and Intermediate school. I remember their faces. Both the the one doing and the one receiving. It was normal. Being ‘made to eat veges was normal. Tears at dinner time was normal. Dinner time was often stressful, riddled with rules, and peppered with bribery. Now corporal punishment is illegal in New Zealand and so is hitting children as parental punishment. It’s a challenge parenting in a way that’s different to how we were raised. Our default, our ‘natural’ is to do what was done to us. It’s what we saw. It’s what we learnt. It’s in our cellular memory. I have compassion for all of us. We’re all doing our best. Writing this, is not about making ‘me’ right and ‘you’ wrong, or putting someone on the naughty chair. I just don’t wanna be that mama that pretends, or looks away, or doesn’t say for fear of ruffling feathers, or making someone feel uncomfortable. When we talk and listen we learn and we have a choice to do things differently. So, even though i feel sad, uncomfortable, angry sometimes (and other times happy remembering our babies trying things for the first time),  for this collection of children and their caregivers, i also feel grateful, for it. It. This video. And the conversation it has started.

Disclaimer:  I’m not a dietician. I’m a mama sharing her experience in this moment – feel free to check out my background on the ‘About’ page. If you’re concerned about the health of your bambini i encourage you talk with a nutritionalist or seek expert advice.

We’re keen to add more creativity around eating to our family’s repertoire…

What vegetable inventions or eating rhythms happen in your home? 

Written by Emily with wild & grace

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