It’s important to have family meals as often as possible. There’s little doubt that children benefit from quality mealtime, home cooked meals, balanced menus, role modeling and exposure to new flavors. But let’s face it: Parents who lead busy urban lives can’t always make this happen.
Have I ever skipped a family meal? Guilty as charged. Despite the fact that it’s my professional duty to discourage others from doing so on a regular basis, many times, family meals just aren’t realistic. Both my husband and I, for example, work late several nights a week (I’ve recently cut back from three to two nights a week in the office), and between social events (whether professional, academic or with friends) and our own date nights, Sunday and Monday are the only days left where we can consistently sit down for family meals.
I try to practice this reasoning as a professional RD and am realistic regarding other New Yorker’s lifestyles as well as my own. Overall, I believe in looking at the whole picture when it comes to how we choose to raise our kids, and in my own household, the time we spend together is about quality, not quantity.
Does this make my husband and I—and other fellow socially and professionally active parents—irresponsible? No. But when I started Mom Dishes It Out, I promised to give you honest accounts of my family’s experiences in the kitchen. So I’m telling it to you straight; whether I applaud this type of behavior or not, this is my reality.
Rise and Shine: Breakfast
My boys, Billy and Bobby, have fallen into the pattern of eating breakfast on the couch while ogling their favorite TV shows. I know: I should probably lie here. Food in the living room? As an RD, I’m like my own worst nightmare.
Hubby is already working when we wake up on school days, so most mornings, I’ll try to sit with the boys during breakfast on the couch. Sometimes we move to the dining room table. Sometimes we don’t.
On weekends, we eat breakfast as a family—a habit we try to maintain. We’ll make organic whole grain pancakes and eat them together at the table—well, most of the time. On Sunday, my husband takes over as chef and cooks up a healthy omelet, or the kids and I stick to cereal and yogurt. Either way, we try to use this time to expose the boys to a balanced menu of delicious and wholesome morning foods like eggs, veggies, lox, cheeses, breads and hot sauce—even if they only lick them.
Midday Meal: Lunch
The boys obviously eat lunch at school. Unlike most cafeterias that are filled with chips, candy and donuts, both Billy and Bobby’s schools do not provide lunch. Thank goodness.
I’m the gatekeeper of their lunches, and I take this opportunity to pack their bags with nutritious meals and snacks based on my own judgments. Better yet, their schools encourage parents to supply healthful foods, so my kids are less likely to be exposed to cookies and chips as snacks. If yours are, it’s not the end of the world.
Nighttime Noshing: Dinner
Dinner with the dietitian can be limited since, as I said, my evening schedule is pretty packed. Twice weekly, I’m in the office until 9:30 meeting clients who can’t see me during the workday. The nights I’m not able to eat at home are somewhat nondescript. Billy and Bobby chomp down their dinner on the couch while watching television or sitting with their caregiver at the dining room table. It’s nothing spectacular, and I’m really just concerned with making sure they eat a semi-nutritious meal.
We try to reserve Sunday and Monday to eat dinner together as a family. During a typical family dinner, the kids eat their preferred foods while my hubby and I stick to ours. (I’ve yet to convince the boys that salmon with wheat berries and grilled asparagus is more enticing than grilled chicken.)
Since Billy and Bobby typically get hungry before us, they usually eat dinner earlier in the evening and then continue to nosh on a light snack (if they’re still hungry) with their dad and I at the dinner table. And trust me, we make the most of our time together.
How often do you sit down with your kids for a family dinner? Are there some meals that are easier than others to eat together? Do your kids eat the same dinner as you do, or do you cook (or serve) separate meals?
So the RD in me knows that you’re not supposed to force a child to eat something that they find icky or are completely uninterested in. But as a mom, there are times when I simply can’t fathom allowing Billy and Bobby to declare that they don’t like a food they’ve never tried. (You’ll have to recognize that since I work with many clients who struggle with eating disorders, I’m particularly determined to ensure that my own kids never feel as though they’re deprived.)
To be fair, I’m not referring to some obscure super-nut from Brazil. I’m not even asking them to try some meaty or fishy flavor like beef or salmon. For the purposes of today’s blog, all I wanted was a little bite of a cucumber. Apparently, even that was too ambitious.
For a while, I was using what I like to call the “one bite” rule. You’re probably familiar with it, when you set the precedent that your child must take a small bite of food—just enough to get a taste. The problem is when they have to swallow or even put the new food in their mouths (my boys).
So instead, I tried tweaking the one bite rule to allow Billy and Bobby to spit out foods they didn’t like. This works well for many of my clients. However with my boys it was still a relentless effort as they spit everything out or again will not even put the food in their mouths.
Now, I’ve moved on to the one lick rule—a tactical technique I’m quickly falling in love with. Whereas a bite of food can seem overwhelming and forceful to a child, apparently, my kids are much more willing to lick things. Who knew?
This past weekend, we were away in Hamptons. After a nice nature walk, the boys and I had worked up quite an appetite, and since I didn’t pack lunch or snacks (I normally do since, ideally, a hike would present the perfect opportunity to introduce foods like trail mix or a new fruit), we somehow ended up, to the boys’ contentment, at a pizzeria.
Of course, Bobby didn’t just want a slice of pizza; he also pointed to a brownie in the showcase and decided that he wanted that too. (Remember: Everything in moderation.) I told the boys they could share the brownie after they’d eaten (not finished) their pizza.
My husband and I, on the other hand, ordered a salad and pizza topped with veggies. The salad was by no means nutritious or fancy (it was made with iceberg lettuce, olives, locally grown tomatoes, cucumbers and homemade dressing), but it was nevertheless amazingly delicious for a simple pizzeria salad.
Naturally, my husband and I offered the boys some veggies from our plate, to which they matter-of-factly replied, “No.” Of course they said no. When it comes to vegetables, they always say no.
Implementing my new theory, I replied: “Well, how about just licking a cucumber slice.” They did.
The results? Billy scrunched his nose, while Bobby didn’t protest. And when they didn’t erupt in tears, the mommy in me—not the RD—decided to ask the boys to eat a very small piece of cucumber.
I proceeded to cut half of one piece into quarters and told Billy and Bobby that they needed to eat a tiny sliver if they wanted their brownie. I know this sounds wrong. But as mom, I have to think that if I don’t push—at least sometimes—my kids may never get past licking new foods to a place where they’re comfortable eating them. Also, they need to eat foods with higher nutrition most of the time and less nutrition less of the time.
Bobby obliged and ate the cucumber without a fuss. (By the way, he also happily licked a shard of lettuce too.) He made a face, but he ate it; and while he didn’t seem to enjoy the quarter-of-a-half-of-a-cucumber-slice, he didn’t seem to hate it either. Small success? I think so.
As planned, after finishing most of his pizza, I gave Bobby his portion of the brownie. He ate about a quarter of it before losing interest. (I wrapped up the rest of the brownie for Bobby and snuck it into his snack bag Monday morning. He told me he didn’t want it—so I ate it!)
Unlike Bobby, Billy made faces and squirmed in a terribly dramatic fashion. Sometimes I think he likes to make a fuss for attention and control. He tossed the licked cucumber back into the salad, slobber and all, and cleverly dropped pieces on the floor. I think, in total, he ate one of the cucumber quarters. All we could do was minimize how much attention we gave him.
Billy went on to eat the entire pizza slice plus a few more bites of another, as well as half of his brownie. He gave the remaining half back to me and hasn’t asked for it since. (Good thing, since I also ate his leftovers last night.)
So, for better or for worse, I made the boys lick and then eat a tiny piece of cucumber. As any good RD would, I attempted to maintain as neutral an environment as possible during the entire fiasco, ignoring their actions and instead continuing in our conversation.
This week, I plan to pick up more cucumbers at the market. While I won’t make the boys eat (or lick) a piece, I will put them on the table so that they continue to gain exposure to the foods they don’t typically nosh on.
Have you ever tried the “one bite” or “one lick” rule? Which seemingly normal and neutral foods do your children refuse to eat, and how have you overcome their behavior?
I am so excited to get to share the reality of raising kids here in NYC while trying to instill a philosophy of moderation and ensuring my boys, Billy and Bobby have a positive relationship with food. Last week I met with a coach named Jim. When describing my approach to food and nutrition, Jim phrased it perfectly: “You can have your cake and eat it too.” As caregivers, parents, teachers and or someone hoping to raise kids one day, lets join together and learn when, where, why, and how often our kids can eat “cake.”