If you’re like the many mum’s I’ve worked with over the last 8 years, you probably feel that feeding your kids is one of the biggest stressors of your day. You probably find yourself thinking:
what do I cook today?
is it healthy enough?
will they eat it?
will the food be wasted?
are they getting enough nutrition?
If I have to hear I don’t like it mum, one more time, I’m really going to lose it!
Any of these sound familiar?
Hopefully what I say next will make you feel a little better.
Even though my work is to mums empower their kids to make better food choices, my two kids still say “I Don’t Like It Mum!”. Not often, but it still happens.
I’m not immune to these 5 simple words. BUT, I do not let it rob me of my peace or stop me from serving that food up again.
My job is to choose what to cook and provide for the family to eat. It’s my children’s job to determine what they eat and how much they eat.
This might sound pretty radical and perhaps scary to you, but there is so much peace in being really clear about what my job is when it comes to feeding my family.
Many mums are so tired, they give up. They think they will have peaceful mealtimes simply by not serving the food again. What invariably happens is they end up worrying about the kids not eating a wide enough variety. In the back of their mind is the niggling thought about “am I'm doing enough to make sure they don't get sick.”
If you want to find peace at mealtimes, lean into not stressing when your kids say “I don’t like it mum.”
The very best thing you can do is to let go of thinking you need to control what they eat, and allow them to have their journey of discovery around food. Think back to when they were learning to walk. You didn’t stand over them, berating them when the fell down. You allowed them to get up and fall down. You were never too far away. You gave them enough space to find their balance and independence, and they learnt to walk.
Now here’s thing:
Kids are all unique individuals. They all have their own journey. Some walk at 9 months, others 12, some 14 months and more. The same applies to their eating.
Giving them space when it comes to food is important too.
Learning to Let Go
You may experienced this with your own kid. The more you try to get them to eat it (just one bit to be polite, just taste it, put it on your tongue etc…), the more they resist it.
What I have discovered is this:
Most of the time, kids resist foods not because they really don’t like it, but because they of the energy and the stress we bring to the table.
I know right, that feels a bit harsh, but I’m witness to many mums experiencing the wonders of letting go - they tell me it’s like magic. When they let go, dinner becomes more peaceful and surprisingly after a while, their kids become more open to trying food.
But, many mums think if they stop trying to get their kids to eat foods, their kids would just choose not to eat it. The reality is somewhat different. I’ve had mum’s tell me that when they make their own peace around mealtimes a priority and they focus on letting go, ”it’s like voodoo magic” or “my kids caught my calm”.
Letting go really works. If your kids are already choosing not to eat it, so isn’t it time to try something totally different? Try letting go. What have you got to lose?
Learning not to stress about it, and work with what they do like, changed how I felt about those 5 words that used to drive me crazy. And it’s working for hundreds of others too.
Here are my tips on how you can lean into letting go, giving your kids the space to learn to try foods and give yourself peace.
Focus on what they do like - these I call safe foods.
Serve safe foods but expose them to the other foods too. Place them in the centre of the table and allow your children to help themselves (if your children are to young, you can ask them what they would like you to serve them).
Don’t stress if they choose only what they like. The key here is exposure, exposure, exposure. Your kids can’t eat, what they can’t see. Your goal is for this food to become normal to them.
Always eat the food yourself and be prepared to pack left overs for your lunch.
Always be having conversations about food away from the table. Keep the dinner table for a place of connection. When you do talk about food, talk about how food and drink fuels their body and brain (eg. if your child loves sport, talk about how the food makes them a stronger at whatever it is they like).
Real Life Examples of Letting Go
The key to letting go is having conversations. I thought one of the best ways to help you understand what this may look like is to give you some real life examples from my experience of learning to let go.
Cereal For Breakfast
We transitioned away from cereal for breakfast some years ago, but then when my son was 7, he was adamant he only wanted cereal for breakfast.
Here’s how my conversation with him went.
Me: Mate, you know eating cereal for breakfast is not much better than eating cardboard, and it’s not going to keep you full for very long don’t you?
Rilien: Yes but mum I just really feel like cereal for a while.
Me: Ok. How about this. If you want cereal for breakfast, you can have it, but you have to have something nutritious before it or along side it. How about we have something more nutritious to start with like a smoothie?
Rilien: Deal mum.
And so we embarked on a period of him having weetbix more regularly than I would have liked. True to our agreement, he kept our deal. He had the nutritious smoothie I made him first (this Awake and Moving Smoothie is a great one to try).
Some mornings instead of the smoothie, I would make him some of my Lazy Bones Banana Bread and serve it with yoghurt and fruit. Of course, once he’d eaten this, he quite often didn’t feel like the cereal.
No Cereal For Breakfast
Fast forward a couple of years and our son no longer likes cereal for breakfast.
I tried a few different ideas with no real wins. I started to pack more in his lunchbox knowing he hadn’t eaten much for breakfast. This backfired because he loves to play. Too much food in his lunchbox overwhelmed him and so he didn’t eat much of it at all. By the afternoon he was starving to the point that sometimes he couldn’t think straight.
I went back to my approach – don’t stress about it, focus on what he likes and talk to him about it. I asked him very simply, what sorts of food will you eat for breakfast. He rattled off this list:
- egg and soldiers
- scrambled eggs
- lazy bones banana bread with yogurt and seeds
- Sourdough bread with peanut butter and banana
- Sourdough with avocado and cheese
- Bacon and egg cupcakes
- Cheats Gozleme
I was happy with the new list and so was he.
Here we are in 2021 and now he doesn’t like eggs - as in scrambled or boiled.
I’m pretty sure he’s caught this latest condition from his older sister who no longer likes eggs - if she can see them!
As a mum, this sort of change in food behaviour has the potential to really drive us made - if we choose to let it.
Rather than let it rob me of my peace, we had another conversation and came up with a new list for breakfast.
What surprised me was he wanted savoury breakfasts. It’s not uncommon now for him to have breakfasts that consist of dinner leftovers (on the day I wrote this, he had leftover lentil shepherd’s pie) or plates of raw vegetables, with tuna and some goats cheese with crackers.
Don’t get me wrong, it is frustrating that he doesn’t like scrambled eggs or boiled eggs, but I know he will circle back around to them at some point. For now, I find other ways to incorporate eggs - like in pikelets or even in his breakfast smoothies.
No Cucumber, Celery or Capsicum
Now it’s not just my son who has preferences, so does our daughter.
At times, she’s loved cucumber, celery and capsicum. She’s currently on a sabbatical from eating celery and capsicum, but she’s back on with eating cucumber.
I’ve made peace with this current situation.
She eats a really wide variety of fruits and vegetables from all colours of the rainbow. I’m not going to get hung up on her not eating celery and capsicum. I’m focussing on the many vegetables she loves, including her current fixation with broccoli – she says you can never have enough broccoli in your day.
Does all this changing what they do and don’t like to eat, stop me from putting out what they don’t like eat? Nope.
From time to time, I will pop it on their plate again or on our centre pick plate, for them to choose from. We’ve had enough conversations over the years about how our tastes change. They have seen that in themselves too. So when I pop it out, it’s not uncommon for them to just try it. I never comment, although inside I am doing a happy dance.
It’s only a recent thing that our daughter has started to eat raw beetroot. I’m pretty sure our son will catch onto that too at some point.
Our kids grow and change. All the time. What they eat will grow and change too. It’s freeing to really understand this at your core because then you can stop worrying.
My approach is really simple and I encourage you to try it out too:
Don’t stress about what they don’t like. Instead I focus on what they do like. Keep exposing them because if they can’t see it, they can’t eat it.
If you want support in empowering your kids to make better food choices, you may wish to check out our Kids Health Quest Membership. It's an online health education for the whole family, with fun quests and cook-alongs for kids, and knowledge and guidance for parents on their quest to give their kids long term health. Learn more and join the wait list here.