And that is where my experiment began.
I decided to try some of the author’s strategies on my own crew of three kids, ages 6, 8 and 12. The first order of business, adjusting my parenting technique from controlling to authoritarian. Mom decides what foods are available but kids choose what and how much to eat. Muth describes this as a counter strategy, giving kids control and choice.
Following her suggestions, I first make sure to expose my kids to a variety of produce, model my own good eating habits and give them choices. I asked: green beans or broccoli for dinner? The trickier part came when I had to give them control over whether they’d eat their veggies or not. According to Muth, kids are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if you let them choose not to. The boys ate their green beans right away without a word, but as predicted, our youngest choose the opposite – her vegetables sat in a cold, sad lump on her plate.
Children expect adults to push vegetables (what kid doesn’t love a power struggle?), but the author says not to be predictable. Instead, acknowledge their healthy choices or simply ask, “What would you like to do to make ____ taste better?” At the next meal, I employed this technique and discovered my daughter preferred raw green beans dipped in Ranch dip while the rest of the family ate them steamed.
And cleaning your plate? Not recommended. This teaches external cues (how much food is left on your plate) instead of internal cues (how hungry you feel). Muth explains that it’s more effective to teach kids to rely on their internal cues of hunger and satiety. After our ‘tween’s third helping of pasta instead of sugar snap peas, I had to step in and nudge his internal veggie meter. Other methods we tried to some success: putting dabs of food on their plates to start, letting them dish their own servings and even putting the serving dishes of veggies on the table right in front of them.
Much of the book was common sense (commit to eating together, have your child help with the meal, the importance of exercise, etc.), but other parts were helpful (pictures of serving sizes for kids, how to make healthy choices at school and at restaurants). Some got a little word-y (how humans experience food) and boring (the sounds of food? Really!?), but overall the author’s advice and techniques were spot on.