“Eat everything on your plate” is a great way to train your children to ignore their natural appetite. Sadly many of us no longer recognise subtle signals from our stomach: we pass straight from ‘hunger’ to ‘excess’ without ever noticing the point of ‘enough’. Because of that, I believe parents should decide what a child eats, and when and how, but the child himself should decide how much.

What if they don’t eat enough? Well, they get a little hungry, but the next snack or meal time is only a couple of hours away. And that’s my next point: Parents should decide when and where a child should eat. If a child doesn’t eat much at a meal, that’s fine but there are no extra snacks until the next scheduled eating time. Frequent small meals through the day probably better suit a child’s metabolism, but browsing and snacking should be controlled to certain times and certain foods, such as fruit.

Every child will have preferences and dislikes (I still loathe broad beans), and many are very reluctant to try anything new (especially anything green). Rather than forcing them to eat everything, insist they at least try “just one spoonful” of the food they dislike. One experimental spoonful, every so often, will eventually erode their resistance to many foods.

One thing that reduced meal-time hassle immensely at our place was a food amnesty list for each child stuck on the fridge. At a family meeting, each child picked five foods they didn’t like. It couldn’t be “All vegetables” or “All meat” but something specific, like peas or broccoli. Their food amnesty lists were stuck on the fridge and if those foods were served, they could decline them with complete dignity, without any fuss being required from either them or you. But if it wasn’t on their list, they had to eat it. And do you know what? There are more than five foods! They ate all sorts of other things without complaining because they had been heard. It gave them a sense of power and control. It sure shut down a lot of arguments at our place. They could change their list, but only at the next family meeting.

For more, check out John’s corner.

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John Cowan

Writer, speaker and broadcaster, John Cowan shares his insight and opinions about the latest in parenting and family news in New Zealand. Hear John speak on radio stations every week throughout the country and regularly on national TV.  Follow @JohnCowanNZ on Twitter

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