Monday 21 September 2015


The other day I was having a conversation with two people who live in different parts of the country, and up until that moment hadn't met before. They were both parents of young children and we got to talking about meal times. Both of them said their children ate well - meaning that they were happy to eat a variety of foods and also finished meals without fuss.

When I asked them to explain how this came about they both had similar strategies. Quite simply, the children had to eat what was given to them. One of them said that no other options were provided. And the other went one step further and said his children only got dessert if they finished all of their dinner. All of it. And if they didn't eat their dinner, there was nothing else. It didn't matter if they didn't like what food was put in front of them. As a result, though, the children ate what the parents ate. There were no adaptations or special meals for the kids. And they had become good eaters.

Interestingly, in the first case, the parent fed her children (both under age four) in the bath. She felt it contained and focussed them. There was no moving away from the table or getting distracted.

Our meal times are somewhere in-between. Kind of. We always eat breakfast and dinner together as a family. Even if I'm going out for dinner with friends afterwards, I sit down at the table and eat a smaller version of dinner. (Dinner is usually served at about 5.30pm - any later and the children become tired and don't eat as well.) We find that the children are more focussed on sitting at the table and eating their food when at least one parent is sitting down with them. If we're both fussing around, restlessness increases.

We also wait until everyone is present and the food has been served until we start eating. We've gone through phases of having the food in large bowls and dishes on the table for the children to help themselves too. Generally, I prefer giving them a quantity of food as I feel that helping themselves can sometimes become a big performance and they're not as focussed on the food. However, I have read that allowing children to help themselves is a good way for them to self-monitor how much they need, and that sometimes we overfeed them. I remember Australian nutritionist Rosemary Stanton saying that getting children to help themselves engendered many good eating habits, and was a way to tackle childhood obesity. While that's not a concern for us - not now, and hopefully never - I can see benefits of this strategy when children are a little older.

Overall, the children eat fairly well. I didn't think this was always the case because when they were younger so many friends and other new mothers spoke of their babies and toddlers as being "good eaters". As time went on, I realised how selective many people are when they say these things. Often when people said this, and then when I observed their children eating food, I didn't come to the same conclusion. So much of parenting is about expectations, I find. 

Of course, our children all have different preferences. One loves meat but is not big on carbohydrate foods, such as pasta and rice, and doesn't like cheese or eggs. While the others will eat cheese and eggs but aren't big on meat. Generally, I don't serve them something they really don't like - but I do expect them to try new foods.

Because we eat together as a family, I don't cook separate meals. We all eat the same meal. Sometimes, if I feel like a chicken Caesar salad, for example, and I know they don't like the mayonnaise-based dressing, I will give them chicken with the salad components and also some pasta, but hold off on that for me. 

Other times when we go through a period of no one finishing their meals, and if I'm feeling frustrated by dinner-time I get a little more strict and insist that they have to finish dinner if they want to have any dessert. I am torn with this approach though because I was forced to eat all of the food in front of me when I was a child and I have vivid memories of sitting at the table chewing on food that I hated and not wanting to swallow it. I don't want to put them through that.

But I do want to raise good eaters. That is, children who are willing to try new dishes, eat a variety of meals and also have a healthy relationship with food.

Generally, dessert is a piece of fruit or natural yoghurt and a drizzle of honey with fruit. On occasion we have something home-baked. But, again, I always try to minimise the amount of sugar they consume (in general and just before bed-time).

Something that I have noticed is that even our fussiest eater has become much better over time. I think this is probably due to persistence on our part, and not forcing the issue with food. And as I was explaining to one of them over dinner tonight, it's my job as a parent to provide nutritional food. Just because one person doesn't like something, doesn't mean that everyone else should be deprived of a rainbow of vegetables, and a mix of foods. Which kind of comes back to one of the first points - for us, meals are about family time. The individual has to learn to become part of the whole.

So are your children "good eaters"? Do they eat a variety of foods and meals? Do they finish everything on their plate? What strategies do you use? What works? I would love to know any of your tips or tricks, and your views on providing dessert or other incentives to get your children to eat everything they are given. Thank you!

image the indigo crew


  1. We are handling the feeding part (finish meals if its food I know our daughter likes, no dessert till meals has been finished etc) and I also noticed that our daughter eats much better when we are eating as a family. So, we try to do this as often as possible. We noticed that she just loves to snack - so tapas-style meals are working the best. Also we do have a little trick to get her to eat also the foods she is not as keen on by offering one food we know she loves with the "new/ or not as much liked food" and call it ONE-ONE. Meaning she gets to eat one spoon of her favorite food, then one spoon of the less favorable etc. I even wrote a blog post on my blog about it. Its works like a charm. And we try to look at dessert not just as a treat for finishing the meal but more of like "You are still hungry" Great, I have something special for you"-type. And since we do not have any regular sugar in the house, there are so many treats out there using honey or desserts sweetened by fruits. Look at raw food desserts - great option for healthy kids dessert. They are delicious and nutritional at the same time.

    1. One-one sounds great. We do something similar. Sometimes heaping a spoonful of dessert into a bowl for every spoonful of dinner they eat, when they're being very fussy.

      I do struggle with the idea of offering dessert as a "reward" as I feel that the healthy meal should be a reward enough. So, yes, that's a good way to frame it.

      And please share some of your favourite raw food desserts. Interested in those!

      Thank you for sharing your experience. So great to hear how other people tackle dinner time.

  2. Ok, here are some easy to whip up treats and desserts my daughter loves and adores: ---- a creamy smoothie/ popsicle recipe: frozen bananas + raw cacao powder + cacao nibs if you have + almond milk + honey or maple syrup + vanilla ---- soaked chias in a banana + almond milk + cinnamon + raw cacao mix ----- and I took a weekend class at Matthew Kenny's once and the ice cream recipe is the bomb and can be turned into many different flavors (I will send you a separate link by email). Or even mix slightly unfrozen bananas with almond butter. Delicious. We like those snack bars too: And if you need to whip up a dessert in under 2 minutes try this fudge by 3 tablespoons cocoa powder + 2 teaspoons coconut oil + 2 teaspoons honey – mix well with spoon.