“Please eat another bite”
How many times a day to you catch yourself saying this to your child? When your child is distracted at mealtime, you redirect their attention to food by saying “eat another bite”. When your child says they’re full a few minutes into the meal, you encourage them to get more food in by saying “eat another bite”. When your child wants dessert after refusing to eat the main part of the meal, you bargain with them for dessert by saying “eat another bite of (insert your chosen food here).”
It’s a phrase that comes out so naturally from our mouths when we just so desperately want them to get the teeniest morsel of food in for nourishment. I swear, I know it seems like they survive off air and air alone!
However, the funny thing with kids is, the more we push them towards something, the more they push back or run the other way. And so, the mealtime battles continue on.
“But what am I supposed to say… nothing?”
Well – with a bit of practice, you can learn to say something a little more subtle that may trigger your child to want to take a bite of food, without being very obvious about it. It takes some practice to tactfully dance around the issue a bit while making it seem natural, but with time it will become part of your regular mealtime language.
That’s why I’ve come up with a few ideas for you to start with to engage your child in a discussion around food, so that you encourage them to eat more, without actually demanding it.
1) Talk about the properties of the food
When children begin to explore food objectively and become curious about a food’s touch, sound, look, and taste, you may find that that their curiousity leads them to putting the food in their mouth “for observation purposes”, rather than because “my mom told me so”. Think about how you would observe the properties of a food in a science experiment!
– This carrot is really crunchy!
– My tomato has a spot of green on it. Does yours?
– I wonder if this apple is more sweet/sour than the orange… it’s definitely more sweet!
– What does the texture of this tofu remind you of?
2) Describe your own interactions with food
Kids learn off of modeling those around them. When they see one person try something, it increases the chances that they will try it as well. Think about most picky eaters when they go to daycare – the likelihood that they eat their food there is way higher than at home because they see their peers interact with food, and want to do it as well. It sparks a bit of a “I can do that too” attitude, without all the pressure to please someone to eat.
– I can put my pasta in this sauce!
– I can lick the peanut butter off this apple slice.
– When I put gravy on my chicken, it makes it easier for me to chew.
3) Create a new way for your child to interact with the food
Challenge your child to come in contact with food without the expectation that they eat it for nourishment. An example could be creating a game out of playing with or biting a food. For foods that your child won’t even let you put on their plate, start with baby steps like asking them to just pass the plate with that food on it. This gives them new types of exposure to the food, which leads to familiarity with the food, which again, increases the chances they will eat it.
– Can you make this cracker crunch? How loudly/softly can you crunch it?
– What side of your mouth can you make a louder crunch sound on… the left or right?
– Can you pass me some cheese?
– Do you want to spread cream cheese on your next cracker?
– Can you pick up that piece of waffle with just a toothpick?
4) Give choices & combinations
Let’s face it, kids want to be in control. Sometimes when we simply rephrase what we want them to do from us telling them to do it to them choosing to do it, it goes a long way. So instead of telling them to take another bite of a specific food, redirect them by giving them control between two choices with one of these phrases:
– Which do you want first…the banana or this grape?
– Do you want your smoothie in this or that cup?
– Want to lick the yogurt off the spoon or your finger/apple slice?
Give these a shot and see if you can relieve some of the direct pressure to eat and put more focus on exploring food properties, touching and experiencing food through conversation and games, and giving the child choices to choose from.
Wondering how much your child should be eating anyway? Download my free guide here to get an idea of how much food your child needs in a day.