One of the biggest challenges with raising children is getting them to eat the foods you want them to eat. A powerful tool you can use to make mealtimes less frustrating and more enjoyable is to pay attention to who in you is invested in the particular meal and in your children’s dietary regime in general. Here’s how I’ve used this technique with my own children.
A ll my three children have responded to eating in different ways: one ate almost anything I offered, one was an early vegetarian who later turned into a carnivore, and the third wanted only roast chicken and potatoes followed by ice-cream for a number of years – she completely bypassed the ‘baby food’ stage, going from my breast to chicken breast!
Now that they are a little older, it is easier, but my youngest is ten and she is still a ‘difficult eater’, so mealtimes can still be a challenge. I certainly don’t have the energy, nor time, nor desire to always provide what she will enthusiastically eat or all the options all three children might want for a particular meal.
But over the years I have realised that their willingness to eat what is placed in front of them was partly determined by my own state at the time.
My teenage daughters are actually now interested in new foods and are enthusiastic about any new dishes I prepare – and they also enjoy cooking themselves at times. The negative responses below occurred when they were all under the age of 12.
Are You Being Needy or Controlling with Your Children?
So, for instance, if I had gone to some trouble to prepare something special for dinner and presented it to my children while I was identified with the part of me that was proud of what I’d cooked and wanted to please them with the meal, they were likely to react unfavourably.
“What’s this?” they would ask as if I had just put dirt on their plates.
“I don’t like it,” they would say before even trying it.
Or they’d dismiss the meal with “I don’t feel like this tonight.”
If I responded in a way that was needy, that wanted approval from them, then they would continue to disapprove of the food.
And if I wanted them to eat it from a more controlling place, then they would rebel against me.
But if I just offered the food to them as though it were something they got every day, and maintained an indifferent attitude to whether they liked it, they usually ended up eating it – or at least a part of it.
If any of them refused to eat it, I would simply say “Okay, off you go then. The rest of us will eat without you.”
To be clear, I didn’t always manage this. Often I would argue and plead and bribe them to eat their dinner, which sometimes worked but also was exhausting and ruined the meal for my husband and myself. But when I was able to unhook from the need for them to eat something, it worked quite well.
The trick with this technique is that you must be willing to accept the response you get – even if you don’t like it. It won’t work if you say the words but are still hooked into needing a particular response from your children.
So you have to find a way to withdraw your energy from your children to do this, so that you are not as intensely bonded with them in a bonding pattern about this.
Re-connect with Your Own Inner Fussy Eater
You need to get in touch with the parts of yourself who don’t always want to eat what is ‘good’ for you or what is given to you without your input.
You need to re-connect with those parts of you who are younger and uncertain about or even afraid of new foods.
When you do this you will have more empathy for your children and their responses to you will change. The power struggle will ease.
Exercise to Consciously Connect with Your Child
To start this, first imagine a mass of warm energy between you and your child. Really feel how close and connected you are.
Then turn the heat down with an imaginary dial so it becomes cooler. Or you can imagine bringing your energy field closer to your own physical boundaries and not having it so connected to your child. This might feel strange at first and even uncomfortable because it separates you from your child energetically.
But it might also feel incredibly freeing as you are able to experience your child with more objectivity. This doesn’t mean you love them any less – but that you are more consciously relating with them rather than relating on autopilot.
What it also does is free you up from the intense bonding pattern with your child – which naturally pushes you to one side of the bonding pattern (the parent side).
This shift in perspective allows you to connect with different parts of yourself.
The result is that if your children really don’t like the food you’ve prepared, it won’t feel like such a personal rejection or as if they will starve or become instantly undernourished.
(Learn more about how connection works and how to connect more consciously with your child.)
You need to also do this in the broader context of providing your children with the nourishment they need. So think in terms of weekly rather than daily nutritional needs. Then if your child refuses dinner one night you won’t get anxious that they will starve or not get enough calcium or iron or protein. They will eventually eat. And if you make available good food then they will get enough good food.
Which Self in You is Feeding Your Child?
Part of doing this technique is to become aware of which part of yourself is preparing the meals for your children and what that part’s rules and concerns are.
For me it was my Nurturing Mother and Responsible Mother. I had to get to know what these Inner Mother selves of mine considered important and what their vulnerabilities were. Once I did that, it became easier to deal with mealtimes.
When I connected with the vulnerability of these selves and took the responsibility from them, I did not need to always control the outcome with my children.
Your process with this will be unique to you and will be influenced by your own history.
Listen to Your Child’s Concerns and Let Them Help You Find a Solution
A way to keep on track with it is to really listen to your children’s responses and take them seriously (this works for any problem they have).
Find out what the problem about the food is for your children and respect their feelings.
Then ask them to help you find a solution.
It is likely that they will be mirroring whatever is unconscious in yourself – so this will reveal to you your inner anxieties and rules/methods you’ve developed for coping with those anxieties.
So put forward your concerns, ask your children for theirs, and work it out together.
(You might also like this piece on how children can be your greatest teachers.)
*Photo by David Goehring
To learn more about the various selves we all have within us, and how our personality forms, read my entertaining ebook Which Self Are You?
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I have struggled with picky eaters with all five of my kids, at different ages and stages. All seemed to enter a new pickiness at puberty, which was frustrating. Two were foster kids, later adopted, and both struggled with eating disorders, hoarding food, extreme binging, and not able to trust that they would be fed every meal. The best thing we did was to take a 9 week cooking class together. The class rules included everyone having to taste each dish prepared, plus sample any foods that were okay to eat in their raw state (mostly vegetables).
It’s a relief that 4 are now adults, and pretty adventurous eaters. The pickiest is majoring in culinary arts, and has the broadest range of dishes now. My son who had a swallowing disorder, fully recovered and is what I would consider a “foodie”, cooking 5-7x/week for his family!
My point is don’t give up! Don’t give in, but don’t be desperate, either! If they leave home still picky, sign them up for the cafeteria meal plan at college…I guarantee they will eat more than bagels and cold cereal when they come home for Christmas.