When Thomas was about 18 months old he loved meatballs. I dutifully spent a Sunday afternoon carefully rolling a billion perfectly-sized little meatballs (packed with extra-special hidden vegetables) then freezing them into convenient portion bags. Approximately 3 seconds later, he decided meatballs were terrible. All toddlers do this: the more time mom invests in creating a special meal for them, the less likely the little jerks are to eat it.
My mom-mentor recommended Ellyn Satter’s Child of Mine, and it’s the single-most helpful parenting book I’ve read. Satter’s philosophy is simple:
1: The parent’s job is to provide nutritious food at regular, predictable times and a pleasant eating environment.
2: The child decides if, what and how much to eat.
The end. Liberating, right? There’s no 1-bite rule and no “stay at the table until your plate is empty” rule, but there’s also no second supper made. And that’s the trick. There is always bread or crackers on the table, so if Thomas rejects the meal we are having he can politely eat carbs. He must also sit for us when we’re at the table together and he must have half-decent table-manners.
The results are pretty good. Yes, he’s lukewarm to almost all vegetables except tomatoes and corn. He often licks all the butter off his bread then asks for another swipe. He’ll chow through half a bowl of vegetable soup only to say, suddenly, “I don’t like that.” But on the whole our family dinner is a calm, happy time. There’s no drama. And I cannot count the number of times Thomas has rejected a plate of something, to which we say “ok, whatever, but you need to sit with us” and then he ends us eating it all up anyways.
There’s a whole lot more to Satter’s book than this concept, but this was a huge, positive takeaway for us. Dinner shouldn’t be a power struggle!