Laughter is the Best Dessert

The closest I have ever come to sneaking healthy food into my child's food was a bit of fun I played with my daughter because laughter is the best dessert.

I don’t believe in using “sneaky” tactics to get my child to eat better. The closest I have ever come to this, however, was a bit of fun I would play with my daughter when she was a toddler.

The fun went like this; when serving a new item, often a vegetable, I would not ask her to try it. After a while, I would eye longingly at the item on her plate, then look away as soon as she saw me. Then look back. Knowing that most toddlers don’t want an item until another toddler does, and the might of the “Mine!” instinct, I would then move my hand toward the item, asking, “Are you going to eat that? Because I really, really like it.”

Sure enough, the “Mine!” would kick in and suddenly that item became her favorite thing on the plate. This doesn’t always work. Be prepared to get that vegetable you asked for at times. But it is generally either joyfully eaten in front of you, or handed over with a giggle.

At some point, I realized it doesn’t matter if she tried the item on the first try or the fifteenth. It didn’t matter if she ever liked that particular recipe. What mattered is we were laughing at the table over sharing food and our interaction with trying new foods was fun and not stressful.

These days, the open-minded approach works best. At our table, it’s okay to say you don’t like a food, but you need to be able to explain why and we can talk about likes and preferences. “It’s okay if you don’t like this recipe,” I say. “But tell me why so I can try something different next time.”

I do my best, even when I am tired, to have real conversation at the table. Some days, things are too busy, dinner is rushed, and real life just gets in the way. It’s good to give myself some permission to not be the right “recipe” sometimes, too. What matters most, is that we just try. And enjoy our dinner together.

I recently interviewed an expert in feeding therapy, Dr. Ramasamy Manikam, Director of the Center for Pediatric Feeding Disorders at St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children. He offered some reassuring advice for all of us parents that may help us all feel less stress and have more fun at the table:

  • No one food ‘has to be eaten’ unless for medical reasons.
  • What matters most is that your child is healthy and taking a variety of other foods.
  • Every eating ‘quirk’ is not a feeding disorder. If the child is healthy with normal growth trajectories the ‘feeding issues’ are overcome through ‘common-sense’ actions and time.
  • Typical picky eating is a perfectly normal phase.
  • A true food disorder and cause for concern is when your child is not receiving balanced nutrients with sufficient intake for proper growth and development, this requires medical evaluation and feeding therapy if warranted.
  • Let your child watch you enjoy the food yourself and do not show stress over mealtimes in front of the child.

Many thanks to Dr. Ramasamy Manikam, PhD, for his advice in this post.

Published on: March 30, 2012
About the Author
Photo of Beth Bader

Beth Bader is the coauthor with Ali Benjamin of the acclaimed book, The Cleaner Plate Club, designed to help parents understand picky eating behaviors; where they originate, and how to deal with them creatively to get kids to eat better.

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