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Step 1. Make sure you’re tight on this before you get started

Make sure your partner isn’t just supportive of you taking on the necessary battle to transform your children’s eating, but they need to be 100% onboard.  What I mean by this, is that both you and your partner need to be sending the exact same message… When you dish up a variety of foods that will be nourishing and flavoursome to benefit the health of your child there will be nothing on the plate that your child won’t learn to enjoy eating.  Having one parent call the salad you’ve served “rabbit food” can create further challenges which then also requires resolve and repatterning.

Step 2. Confessional

Apologise to your child and tell them that you’ve made some mistakes and that you’ve recently learned that some foods they’ve been eating aren’t good for growing bodies so you won’t be buying them again. Tell them that having them grow up healthy and strong is so important that the whole family will be trying new foods, and enjoying the same nightly meal together.

Step 3. Educate your Children

Being a health practitioner and having seen many tweens coming in already diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes when there has been no family history, I am passionate about restricting sugar and refined carbs such as cakes, cookies, doughnuts, white bread, and sweet drinks.  This step may irk a number of you, but we found that it was an integral part of having our Son see ‘health’ through our eyes.  It replaced the anger he had when we said “No” to certain ‘treats’ with understanding.  Now-hubby and I threw out all the breakfast cereals (that were mostly sugar), tidy teddies, cordial, soft drinks, sweetened yoghurt and icecream and talked to Son about Diabetes.  He was shown photos of blind people and amputees in wheelchairs to teach him what the disease, caused from excessive ongoing intake of sugars, does to others.  We explained to Son that when we say “No” to all the foods he used to have as staples, we aren’t being mean, we are caring for him.  Our greatest wish is that he gets through his whole life with good health and an able body.  ** I fully acknowledge that diabetes can be caused by other means as well, but for the purpose of transforming eating we found it useful in making the next positive changes.

Step 4. No More Turned Up Noses at Good Food

Introducing new foods is difficult, really difficult. And despite the earlier steps, your child has likely learned that their criticisms of your food is heard and in the past, you’ve not fed them the things they have told you that they dislike.

I had to put the very stern voice on to tell Son, under no uncertain terms, that his criticisms of good healthy nutritious foods would never again be tolerated in our home.  He had to be told again when at his Nani’s home, and a third time when Dad prepared dinner.  After that he never criticised good food again.

For many of you, this will be an important step in having your child accept that meal time has now changed.  I was told once that the average number of times children will try a food before they like it is 11.  In our home we have found that Son will be stubborn and/or cry, the first three times he has a new food, he tolerates it for the next two and enjoys it by the sixth try.

Step 5. Family Meals

After you’ve cut back on the snacks and sugar (which is helping to better normalise their tastebuds as well as ensuring they’re hungry enough to eat their next square meal) it’s time to begin sharing dinner time together… and not just having you all sit down together.  I mean sharing the ONE meal.  In our home, we began by merging our Son’s meal with our adult meal so ALL our meals began to look the same.  For example one night we would have chicken nuggets, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and some pasta free chicken vege lasagne, and the next night might have been fish fingers, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, carrot and a lamb cutlet.

Son began to understand the social aspect of a family meal too as well as mixing foods together that he didn’t necessarily like.

Step 6. Consequences

To save us from the unrest of difficult situations encountered at the dinner table during this stage, we decided that Son could choose to eat his dinner, or he could clean his teeth and go to be early. If he chose to leave his dinner we would put it on a sandwich the next day for his lunch.  This proved to him the importance of valuing good food – we were not going to throw it in the bin! Plus, it gave him a chance to taste it a second time.  We were amazed how many things he would eat for lunch when he wouldn’t eat them for dinner.

We didn’t use dessert as a way of dangling a carrot either.  It was all part of restricting the sugar intake so Son would enjoy normal foods.

Step 7. Rewards Chart

Rewards charts work in our home. Son gets to choose 10 things that he’d like us to do as a family.  I’ll do another blog about reward chart reward ideas. When we had a no-fuss mealtime he got a star. Every 10, he got to choose one of the 10 reward he’d chosen.  Downloadable free templates are easily found online too for you to make your own.

Step 8. “But I’m Hungry”

This will be the most commonly heard phrase for you during this battle.  For us, we had to work with Son to understand that hunger was just a feeling in the tummy, nothing to be scared of, and something he wasn’t going to die from.  It took the haste out of buying something fast and junky to fill him up.  It also got him out of the old patterns he had where he would say he was hungry when actually bored, or because he’d seen something in a cafe we has just walked past.  At times, he’d say he was hungry, and I’d reply by saying “how about we head home and you can have the orange that you chose this morning at the markets?”  He’d protest saying that he needed something now! He was reassured that we only lived 10 minutes away and he could have some good food at home. Once home, I’d cut up the orange and he wouldn’t eat it.  You’ll learn quickly how often you’ve been played by this line, when all that’s on offer is some fruit when they call “I’m hungry!”

Watch out for the Petrol Stations too. Son knew when every petrol station was coming up and he knew that if he said he was hungry Dad would pull in for a coffee and pick up something for the lad.  This created another need for a strategy.  We would explain we’d be driving express for two hours, no stops except for coffee and fuel.   He had to fill up on his breakfast or lunch before we went.  Setting goals such as this one, where there is a clear stretch of time between meals can change your child’s engram (how they’ve been conditioned), having them get used to ‘going without food’ for a couple of hours at a time.

Other tips

After cutting back on the sugar and refined nasty foods, aim to add more protein to each meal.  Eggs (scrambled, poached, boiled, omelettes or frittatas), plain yoghurt (mixed with decreasing amounts of fruit yoghurts) with real fruit, savoury mince (50% veggies, 50% mince), smoothies with cashews, oats, chia seeds, and other goodness are great ways to start the day.  This will ensure your child remains full for around 4 hours and encourages stable blood sugar levels.  When they do get hungry it will happen slowly, not suddenly as it does 1.5-2 hours after eating mainstream cereals.  The fast drop in blood sugar leads to erratic behaviour, cravings and moodiness.  It can also alter their learning experience.

For dinners, aim for meat and vege or fish and salads.  Keep pastas to Friday or Saturday night if you must have them at all.  This way you can recognise the dopiness caused by the ‘gluten-hangover’ effect many experience the morning after a wheat based dinner such as pizza, pasta and bread.

These are strategies we’ve found helped us tremendously and after three months of using these principles Son was eating all kinds of new foods without hesitation and with tonnes of enjoyment.

I hope that you take from this some ideas and work out in your own home what will work for you and yours.  It’s constant adaptation and refinement to strategies, but it’s rewards are so worth it!

I wish you all the best of strength going forward!

Love to read your comments too, so if you’re happy to share your experiences and ideas, please do so!