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When “Johnny Won’t Eat That!” Getting Kids to Eat What You Cook


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When “Johnny Won’t Eat That!” Getting Kids to Eat What You Cook

Getting kids to eat
Buddy Hackett once said “As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.”  I love this saying.  Imagine how simple dinnertime would be if all parents stuck to that rule.  Instead, many parents are cooking two or three different dishes every night because, as they say, “Johnny won’t eat that.”

So what’s the problem?  Well, actually a few things could be happening.  For starters: Who is Johnny and who gave him the control to choose what’s for dinner?  Now I am the first to say that children need choices, but there is a big difference between choosing and refusing.  The truth is that children are naturally afraid of new foods.  In order to get them to try new things, we need to get them involved.

Allow Kids to Choose
Children like to be a part of the decision-making process, and allowing them to make choices empowers them.  Aside from the food benefits I’ll soon explain, incorporating your children into your family’s menu planning also teaches them how to make decisions, be part of a team and compromise when it is not their turn to choose.  Now I do not mean you should let them decide not to eat what you have already prepared, but rather you should allow them to help choose the menu.  Consider the following game:

Have each member of the family choose a day of the week.  Then, have each member of the family (mom too!) choose a meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner).  Once the day and meal is selected, have each member of the family choose what to eat on that day and at that meal.  For example, I choose Tuesday dinner and I want eggplant parmesan. 

Not only have you just created a family game, you now have:

  • a weekly menu planned
  • empowered the kids to make choices
  • taught the kids about planning & preparing meals
  • the information you need to put together a grocery list

Take Kids to the Grocery Store
Letting the kids shop for the foods that you’ll prepare allows them to see the entire process.  It also begins to build curiosity to see the final product.  Remember that on that menu are not only meals that the kids selected, but also meals that the grown-ups have selected.  You can say something such as, “Ok, mommy’s dinner choice was eggplant parmesan this week, so we need to select an eggplant.”  Take the kids to the produce section; show them the eggplant, let the kids help pick one out, and let them put it into the cart.

Get the Kids in the Kitchen
Getting kids in the kitchen is important for a number of reasons.  Not only will they learn the value of meal preparation and what goes into it, but they will also handle the food, see how spices are used and see what’s in the final product.  Allowing them to touch and prepare the food takes out some of the fear of trying it.

Trying the new Food
Once the food is prepared and cooked, the kids will be anxious to see how it turned out. As parents, it is very important to model the behavior that you want the child to have.  Therefore, Mom and Dad, grandparents, or any other adults that are around should be anxious to try the meal.

Test Your Knowledge:

1. A good reason to have kids help prepare the meal is:

  • It helps teach them about meal preparation
  • It helps teach them about different spices and ingredients
  • It helps eliminate some of the fear of trying new foods
  • All of the above

Answer  d

2. Which of the following is a good example of how a child can choose what’s for  dinner?

  • Ask the child what he wants for dinner once he is home from school
  • If the child refuses to eat, ask the child what he wants instead
  • Have the child participate in making a weekly menu along with the rest of the family

Answer  c


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About the Author

Heather is a registered dietitian and a board certified specialist in sports dietetics and holds a master degree in Wellness and Human Performance. She is the owner of Nutrition CheckUp, a private consulting practice in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania specializing in sports nutrition, weight management, wellness and nutrition communications. She is the proud mom of three children and enjoys running, traveling, visiting new restaurants and great wine.


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