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HE WON’T EAT ANY VEGETABLES

Not a week goes by without a letter from frantic parents who fear malnutrition is about to set in because their child will eat NOTHING but a few favorite foods.

I could have written a letter to myself 5 years ago when my own grandson arrived for a visit and announced he would eat nothing green. His diet consisted of pizza, bread, milk, and junk food. Once in a very long while he’d have orange juice or grapes but otherwise no fruit.

Some parents spend hours trying to get children old enough to make food choices themselves make better choices. Mealtimes turn into nightmares with parents either trying to find SOMETHING healthy the kid will eat or lecturing nonstop on proper nutrition. Other parents refuse to get into food fights, figure out the kid won’t starve to death, and pretty much ignore what is being eaten.

My suggestions for parents of limited-nutrition-kids: Don’t coax, cajole, bribe, nag, yell, punish or do anything else that takes away the child’s control over his own eating. Don’t even sigh deeply or tell others how awful your child’s eating habits are. Back off and acknowledge that the days of feeding this child are long gone. The child feeds himself and chooses what to eat.

I don’t buy into the “eat what’s in front of you or starve” school of thought. But I do feel strongly that no parent should cook separate meals because of a finicky eater in the family. The rule at our house was very firm: eat what has been prepared or fix yourself a bowl of cereal.

Grandparents, too, should avoid food fights with either the child or parents. If the limited-eater is of normal height and weight and neither the doctor or parents are concerned, relax.

One permissible thing a parent or grandparent can do is show the kid a food pyramid on a cracker box or in a nutrition book. It says that everybody should have 3 to 5 servings of vegetables and 2 to 4 servings of fruit every day. Be sure to point out how small a serving is–a big glass of juice in the morning is 2 servings and a small apple or banana is one serving.

Then drop the subject except to remind the child that tastes change so it’s not a bad idea to try something new once in a while.

A trick we used to get our children to taste new foods was to offer them a taste of a new restaurant food “for next time.” Our children usually tasted but if they were squeamish for any reason we didn’t care. Sometimes it was a costly experiment–both our children tasted and loved lobster!

Often when finicky eaters realize that they, not the parents, decide what goes into their mouths, the diet quickly improves. When food is not an issue between child and parent, the child relaxes. The limited diet turns out to have been more a matter of control than taste.

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