When it comes to fruits and vegetables, what’s your goal?
Do you want your kids to like them? Or just to eat them? (And, relatedly, would you be satisfied with one bite, something I call the happy bite?)
It sounds like a silly question. You probably want to answer “both.” After all, kids who like fruits and vegetables presumably eat more of them than kids who don’t like fruits and vegetables.
But let’s say you had to pick one goal over the other, which would it be? To help you think about this, let’s turn the question on its head.
If you had to accept only one of the following conditions, which would you prefer?
A) Your children like vegetables but eat only one happy bite at dinner.
B) Your children don’t like vegetables but will eat a full serving, usually with your urging.
If you want your children to develop a lifelong habit of eating vegetables, go with answer A: The Happy Bite. It’s a long-term technique that pays off. The Happy Bite produces:
- Positive associations with food for your kids.
- A doable eating “assignment.”
- Pleasant mealtime interactions between you and your children.
- The right lifelong eating habits.
The Happy Bite rocks. It’s the no-pressure way to teach your kids the right lifelong habits.
Sadly, most parents go after consumption, not after liking. (How else can we account for the popularity of the Two More Bites Tango?)
A friend recently asked me if my daughter eats salad. The awe and admiration he expressed when I said “yes” turned sour, however, when I elaborated. “She eats a very small spoonful every night, and we only serve her items from the salad that we knows she enjoys.” In other words, we lose the lettuce, but pile on the cucumbers, tomatoes, and any other vegetable that has made it into the mix.
My friend responded with some version of, “I could get my son to eat salad too if I did it that way. But that’s not really eating salad.” So he gave up trying.
You might feel the same way. You might also want more from your kids.
But I’ve got a happy salad-eating habit going. My daughter is open to salad because of The Happy Bite. Pressuring her to eat more salad, or to eat more items from the salad, would ruin the whole thing. Besides, more will come in time. Read Salad Days.
The nutrition model encourages parents to count bites, but it’s counterproductive.
It’s not surprising parents focus on consumption—How else can you comply with the USDA’s recommendation to fill half your kids’ plates with fruits and vegetables?—but it’s a shame. When you push kids to eat more, they usually eat less.
Focusing on consumption distracts parents from their main mission: actively cultivating their children’s appreciation for fruits and vegetables. Liking has to proceed consumption. Makes sense, right?
But there’s more. By focusing on consumption parents are actually undermining their own efforts. Kids don’t usually develop positive associations with foods they’ve been forced to eat. In the longrun this tactic is a bust. Happy Bites, however, produce Happy Feelings! Sometimes less is more.
The key to new food acceptance—i.e. to liking—is to focus on exposure, not volume.
It doesn’t matter how much your children eat. What matters is how frequently they eat it. Read A New Approach to Teaching Tots to Try New Foods.
Over time, consumption always increases. (One day your child might even actually order a restaurant salad for dinner!)
In the meantime, remember this: Happy Bites add up. Use them frequently throughout the day and you’ll be surprised by the results you will get.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~