Kids And Food

After I started posting pictures of what I’ve been eating, I had a lot of requests to write about whether or not my kids eat the same things I do and how I have time to cook meals and how it all works, so here is my sure to be long winded explanation of that.

First let me walk you through the day.

Erik wakes up at about the time the kids wake up (6:25 ish) and he gives them breakfast.  This is usually oatmeal or yogurt or toaster waffles or fruit.  Eli used to eat all kinds of weird stuff for breakfast (frozen hot dogs) but now it’s pretty much this. Neither one of them eats a great breakfast and I throw out a lot of half empty yogurt containers, but what can you do.

Eli takes a packed lunch to school because he refuses to eat the hot lunch.  Usually I pack him half a sandwich, a fruit of some kind, some cookies, maybe some craisins or some olives, maybe a vegetable. He sometimes eat a lot of lunch, sometimes barely anything, but he does seem to like the sandwiches. (They can’t take anything with peanut butter in it to school.)

I come home from dropping Eli off at school at about 9. If I’m starving sometimes I’ll eat breakfast right away, but generally I do not care to eat anything until I have been awake for a few hours, so usually I don’t cook myself breakfast until around 11 AM.  Usually I’ll make three eggs and Katie will eat most of one.

After I get Eli at 1, we come home and I try to get Katie to eat something else, and I ask Eli if he wants anything else to eat, sometimes he eats, sometimes he doesn’t. He almost always asks for food sometime before dinner though, and both my kids seem to get hungry at about 4, so they usually end up eating a pre dinner around then.

I try to start dinner before Erik gets home (and try to have an idea of what I’m making in the morning so I can defrost things) but sometimes I don’t get around to it before he gets home.  Usually I’m in the middle of cooking when he walks in the door.

We all eat all together every night at the dining room table.  If it’s something I KNOW they won’t eat any part of, I will try to get something else ready, but usually I just alter it slightly and put it on their plate.  For example if we’re having steak salad, I’ll just save out the steak and cut it up for them.  Eli is also unusual in that he’ll eat only vegetables or fruit if given the choice, so usually I will give him the protein first and tell him he can’t have lettuce/peppers/mango until he eats the protein.

Usually if I feel like he ate a terrible dinner I’ll try to get him to eat an ice cream bar for dessert because I will do whatever to takes to get calories into the child, and he is fairly amenable to ice cream bars.

In general, though, here’s some of my food/eating philosophies:

1. Milk is for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Both my kids would do nothing but drink milk all day, given the choice.  Eli can’t have milk except at meals or that’s all he’d drink. If he wants a drink and it’s not meal time, he gets himself water.

2. I essentially let them eat whatever they want whenever they want to eat it.  I make some exceptions because I think sugar plus Eli is a really horrible combination, but when he asks for food, he gets it. I don’t make more than three suggestions of things he’d like to eat though, after that it’s his job to come up with something he wants to eat.  And I am not an all day long short order cook, if you ask for food and it’s not a time when I am in food fetching mode, then you can get it yourself. We have a step stool in our kitchen and a snack basket and lots of things that are readily available.

I really feel strongly about this “whatever” approach to food.  When I was growing up, we ate at McDonald’s twice. Yep, twice in my entire childhood. We never had treats or junk food or sugar and this approach backfired wildly as soon as I could control what I ate.  I never learned how to be normal around junk food.  Erik grew up in a house where no one really gave a shit what you ate or when you ate it, and he has the most normal and non screwed up attitude towards food of anyone I’ve known, so we veer hard toward the “chill out” philosophy of food around here.  We always have fruit and vegetables and healthy stuff around, but we go to McDonald’s.  If you want some chocolate chips I will give them to you.  And most importantly, in our house, food is morally neutral.  You may gain or lose weight because of something you eat, it might make you thirsty or it might make you feel gross or feel great, but what you eat does not make you a good or bad person.

3. One person cooks dinner, the other person does the dishes. And there’s give and take in this, but in no universe am I going to cook and clean up from an entire home cooked dinner that I cooked every night.

4. You’re not allowed to say that you don’t like something that I cooked. You don’t have to eat it, but I don’t want to hear your opinion about it unless they are positive.

5. We food bribe ALL THE TIME.  All the books tell you not to do this, but the reality is that Eli can’t tell when he’s hungry, he doesn’t ask for food when he should, and when he gets too hungry, all  hopes of getting him to eat are lost.  So at dinner he can’t leave the table until he eats a certain amount of protein, and if he starts to get hangry, we make him a plate of food, shut him in his room, and tell him he can’t come out until it’s eaten.  I have this same problem and hopefully he figures out “If I’m crabby I need to eat” shortly before his 36th birthday, but for now, this is what we have to do sometimes.

6. Speaking of books, the books have never helped us.  I checked out ALL the books on how to get kids to eat and they just don’t apply to my kids.  I always hear “no child has ever starved with access to food” and first of all, I really really hate statements that start with “no child has ever…” because really? In a world of BILLIONS OF CHILDREN you’re willing to say NO CHILD EVER? I just don’t believe that. Secondly, I think Eli really would starve to death while he sobbed in the corner next to a pizza, so…I don’t worry too much about what the books say.

7. You’re expected to ask to leave the table by saying “May I be excused” and to clear your own place once you are excused, and then if your parents are still eating, you may not lurk around the dining room. We all eat dinner together every night but it has been an exercise in patience for the past five years, so sometimes we do let them leave the dining table early because we just can’t take it anymore.

8. I have a lot of things that can be really quickly made for a kid (although Eli won’t eat most of them because of course not) like chicken nuggets, etc, but I never worry about whether or not my kids will eat a dinner.  I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate picky eaters and I refuse to raise them. And again, they don’t have to eat it, but I cook what I want to eat, and everyone else can fall in line or eat a bean burrito.

Let me know if you have questions.  I will try to note what my kids ate below what we had for dinner if I can remember.


Braised Chicken and Vegetables in Peanut Sauce

One of my go to all time favorite recipes. Everyone loves this. I usually just use regular chicken breast and serve it over this brown rice/quinoa mixture you can buy frozen at Costco because I hate cooking rice.  Kids at the chicken and the rice.


Thai Beef Salad Wraps. No recipe because in my opinion it was similar but not as good to that regular old Thai Beef Salad with mint. Kids ate the steak sans sauce, and lettuce.


This was breakfast one morning – TJ’s frozen green beans, sauteed with garlic, and then some random mushroom from the Farmer’s Market sauteed till crispy and two fried eggs. YUM.


I have renewed my love for roasted broccoli.  This breakfast was broccoli, eggs, and smoked salmon.


16 Responses

  1. This is basically exactly how it works in our house. The minor difference is I have 90th percentile kids so I have never in their lives had to shut them in the room with food; they like to eat. My big things are moderation (you can eat everything just not all of it all at once) and dinner together. That last one is nonnegotiable, though of course there are nights where we’re missing a parent or we’re not all together. I do not offer other items, but I will modify a dinner.

  2. Your meals seem fancier than mine.

    We food bribe all the time too. Because we NEED to.

  3. This is how it works at our house too. Kesh would only eat fruit and spinach if it came to it. Sachin would drink a gallon of milk a day if he could.

    But yes: One meal. ONE. MEAL. And FOOD IS MORALLY NEUTRAL should be taped to every cupboard of every house.

  4. This is basically our house too. My kids eat plenty during the day so I never worry about dinner, but they eat when they want to and I will modify slightly what’s on our plates to theirs but I almost never make them separate meals. We always sit down together for dinner, but if they don’t eat, whatever. We rarely food bribe and do not do dessert, but I also don’t reward bad food behavior. If my son doesn’t want his chicken, that’s fine but he doesn’t get candy because OBVIOUSLY he’s not hungry. They eat tons (tons) for breakfast and taper through the day. Like Hillary, we don’t need to force calories, so we don’t. It’s an equally laid back approach. It would be nice if they ate more (or any) veggies though.have Eli teach them that, would you?

  5. Love this. Especially the part about food being morally neutral. I am going to try very hard to institute that in my home. I grew up in a household where food was anything but morally neutral. Unhealthy food always came with a big heaping side of guilt! And it did not make me a healthy eater as an adult. So yes, I like this approach and I hope beyond hope that my kids grow up with a healthy attitude around food and are able to learn moderation before they are 30!

  6. I love hearing how other people handle this. We also have a very “whatever” approach to food. I never have to bribe my kids to eat though. They’ll both eat their weight in breakfast food. I do try to limit milk to meals, just because I like to make sure they’re getting some water during the day.

    Growing up the two things I remember my mom saying most often (about food) were: Just eat what you want. And: Just eat when you’re hungry. She might modify a meal for us, and we never had to try some of everything, but she wouldn’t cook a separate meal. I’ve always felt like those things helped me have a healthy approach to food (emotionally. I’m not always the healthiest eater), so I’m trying to recreate that with my kids.

  7. I was just thinking today about kids and eating and mealtime and whatnot. Maybe I’ll blog about it. I like your approach of letting them eat whatever to make them not picky, as opposed to the “you will try this and like it or else” approach, which maybe doesn’t work. I am probably the least picky eater I know (haha, I am so sure, right?) and I was raised in a very “whatever” household when it came to food, so I can see the relationship.

  8. I like how you do things. We are a family of you can eat when you want. We do shut down the kitchen about 8 p.m. (as long as everyone had a good dinner and a snack – we are late evening family. Kids go to bed around 9 p.m.) My girls have never been above the 50th percentile in weight so I try not to stress too much as long as they are eating mostly healthy.
    Our dinners aren’t organized. We have a regular rotation of things the girls eat. The husband gets home before I do and makes them dinner. I don’t get home until 7, sometimes 8 so I usually fend for myself. My go to is cheese, crackers and avocado.
    It’s not ideal but with an hour commute (hopefully not for long) it’s how we make things work.

  9. So … Tonight I made pork quesadillas. Kids love all the components, but tonight they apparently didn’t like the end result. I told them it wasn’t polite to tell me that they didn’t like something I worked hard to eat, if they didn’t want to et it then they could eat the other things on the plate (yellow rice and black beans).

    So my husband backed me up and then told me it wasn’t realistic to expect them not to tell me they don’t like what I made. I wanted to a) shout “but Elisabeth says so!” Or b) backhand him.

    I chose instead to say “well if we teach them it, then it won’t e unrealistic”.

  10. I am horrendously picky and I hate it. HATE IT. I think a lot about how to get my future kids to NOT be picky. (Hopefully they will take after their father – my husband eats nearly everything.) So I find this really interesting, and your approach to food very… useful and fresh.

    I will say that I think your “we eat McDonald’s and if someone wants chocolate chips, they get some” approach is smart. That’s the approach my family used, and I feel like I have a pretty healthy approach to eating. I eat what I want, when I want, in moderation (mostly – except for tortilla chips), and while sure I could stand to lose a few pounds, I generally don’t worry about it that much. SOME. But not much. My husband thinks about what he eats and should and shouldn’t eat and worries about it much more than I do, and I’m glad I skipped (most of) that food-related guilt and stress.

    Your “I make what I like and everyone can get behind it or eat a bean burrito” and your “only positive comments” rules are awesome, too. I can really get behind those.

  11. I let Anna eat most anything including candy but I try to separate food into sometimes food and healthy food.
    Also try a rice cooker. I hated making rice too and had frozen rice but rice cooker rice is so easy and so incredibly good. Our rice cooker is Japanese and plays little songs and that makes me like it even more.

  12. I love it. We have some similar rules. My big thing is you can’t say you don’t like it it you haven’t tried it. It is so defeating to set a plate in front of a child only to have them turn up their nose before they’ve even picked up their fork. I have also taken to answering the question “what’s for dinner?” with “food” to avoid the pre-dinner complaining. I also totally agree with the you don’t have to eat what’s on your plate, but you don’t get anything else. I want to teach my kid to stop eating when he’s full and not just to shovel it in to get to the chocolate chips. It’s hard though.

    If we want to get gossipy for a moment, my husband’s parents used to shove food into his mouth forcibly. I was horrified when I first heard that, and in spite of it, they seem nice and he’s on the normal-side too. Crazy!

  13. Oh, I loved reading this. Food is such a huge part of people’s lives and one’s relationship with it can be, or not be, so complicated.

    Iris’ eating by mouth is a beast on its own and while I expect that to change, mostly it’s her doctors and her dietician that regulate her intake right now.

    Outside of that, here is a bit of what we do at home:

    –We are not a clean-your-plate house nor am I willing to get into a discussion about what I’m serving (occasionally I’ll give Ezra options pre-designated by me). If he moans or whines, I only ever say, “That is what we are having. You don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to.” He’s always been a voracious eater and a good self-regulator, so I don’t stress about his complaints.

    –If I make something new and it is universally panned by T, me AND Ezra?–I will make everyone a sandwich or bust out some cheese and crackers. That is the only time I’m willing to do that.

    –Fruit is usually served with every meal, and milk at breakfast and lunch. Water at dinner plus water in-between meals.

    –I only expect Iris and Ezra to stay seated and wait for everyone to finish when we’re at restaurants (because where the hell are they going to go?), but at home, they must ask, “May I be excused?” and then clear their spot at the table. Once excused they need to leave the kitchen or dining room so that everyone else can enjoy and finish their meal.

  14. Your breakfasts look divine. I would never think to put an egg on top of green beans, but I sure as heck would eat it now that you’ve presented it.

    Tot is HUNGRY when we pick him up from daycare. We had been giving him what we thought were small snacks, but he wasn’t eating much dinner without a battle. We reevaluated the snacks, and now he’s eating a much bigger, healthier dinner.

    We all eat dinner together at the table. Tot’s deal is that he doesn’t want to stop playing to eat. Then he wants to shovel it all in to get done so he can get back to playing. We are having to be really consistent with table manners and staying at the table right now so that we can take him to a meal in public and not have to pretend he’s not ours.

  15. […] Family Dinner? topic to Twitter and thought I'd bring it here, as well. Also of interest to me (and Elizabeth recently posted on this same topic) is the discussion of what your kids eat (i.e.: do they eat what you eat or something […]

  16. Thank you so much for writing this. We had our first family meeting last night to discuss our meal times :). Anna and Eli are so alike. It really makes me wonder if it is some genetic thing involving texture or something. Everything you Said about his eating preferences and habits are exactly like our Anna. We have raised our kids in such different environments that their has to be a “nature” aspect to this. Anyhoo, Greg and I struggle with the food concept with her so much bc food is such a complicated issue. Our pediatrician reassures us that she is fine. However, it is so hard to know how far to go with making her eat etc. we have tried the whole, she will eat when she is hungry thing. Like Eli, this doesn’t work. Parents of kids that are easy to feed say this. So we just don’t know what to do any more and we really appreciated this post if yours.

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