Strategies Parents Can Use to Win the Food War

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  (1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV)

Winning the Food War

A neighborhood child was over to play one morning when our kids were between three and six years old. I found the young boy going through our cupboards for food, and quickly deduced that he was hungry. He agreed to macaroni and cheese, so I made several boxes of our favorite meal — Aldi’s mac-n-cheese, just twenty-three cents a box.

When the kids sat down to eat, our young friend was served his food on a red plate. This little treasure refused to eat what was set before him, and demanded something different because, as he said, “I don’t like this brand of mac-n-cheese, and I NEVER eat on red plates! Give me something else!”

It seemed obvious he had done a superb job in training his parents that he’s the one in charge. I reasoned that maybe they didn’t need that gym membership after all, as they were clearly going to be spending a huge percentage of their time and energy running after their son, meeting his every whim. The Food War is as old as time itself, and I’d like to share with you our experience with it, how we arrived on the other side victorious, and how you can, too.

How We Fought and Won the Food War 

Our story began with little Gabriel, at that time just one and a half years old. We’d followed the guidance of our doctor, and at about one year of age had introduced him to baby food:  first green veggies, then orange veggies, and last of all fruit. He’d recently graduated to grains and meat, and his table habits filled us with pride. He was a veritable eating machine who would eat anything and everything that was placed in front of him.

That is until he caught a bad cold and lost his appetite for several days. I resorted to milk and bread with jelly in order to keep him fed, but when he had recovered from his sickness a week later and I reintroduced vegetables, our little angel stubbornly refused to eat anything except bread with jelly, downed with a glass of milk.

After several stressful and unproductive mealtimes, I realized that it was time for me to strap my boots on, dig in and take charge of the situation, not giving up until I’d won the battle.

10 Tips for Picky Eaters

We Had to Win the Battle

Intuitively, I knew I had to emerge victorious over this relatively small battle now, or I would be making separate meals for individual family members throughout my child-rearing days. The battle, which lasted three full days (and which I eventually won) looked like this.

In the morning I sat Gabe in his highchair with a plate of warmed up canned vegetables and a glass of water. BAM! The plate landed on the floor and Gabe began to scream. “OK,” I said as gently and lovingly as possible at the moment. “That’s all for breakfast. See you at lunchtime!

I took him down from his seat, cleaned up the mess, and went about our schedule until lunchtime. I gave him no snacks or milk between breakfast and lunch, although he was welcome to drink water at any time. Lunchtime came, and again I placed Gabe in his highchair with a plate of warmed up canned vegetables. Sure enough, BAM! The plate hit the floor and my little angel began to scream.

“OK,” I said again as gently and lovingly as possible. “That’s all for lunchtime. See you at dinner!” Inwardly I was suffering for my child, and also for myself! I was also wondering how long this would take, and whether or not I would have the strength to make it.

I Was Ready to Quit

After all, I was a busy mom with three kids under the age of five. I was trying to run a business, keep the house clean and put delicious meals on the table every night. I wanted to be the best mom I could to these kids, but at this moment every bone in my body was screaming, “QUIT! GIVE IN! IT’S NOT WORTH IT!”

Dinner was a repeat of the same thing. Tom was home from work, and he encouraged me to continue. “Jen, stick it out,” he advised. “Gabe won’t starve, and he won’t die. Eventually, he’ll be hungry enough to eat what you give him, and we will win this battle once-and-for-all!”

The following day was an exact replica of the previous day. By dinner, I was so tired of cleaning up veggies that I just left them on the floor. Gabe was very hungry and screaming, I was crying, and our other two children were a bit unnerved by the whole situation.

Meal Battle Number Seven

The morning of the third day I awoke wondering how I was going to be able to get through breakfast. Asking God to give me His strength for ‘Meal Battle Number Seven’, I lifted little Gabe into his chair, and set the vegetables in front of him. BAM! The plate hit the floor, he began to scream, and I began to cry.

I’d had it…I was ready to quit and for real this time. I called Tom at work and reported, “That’s it!  I quit! I just can’t do it anymore!” Tom, who is a loving, supportive and wise father and husband, understood my frustration and gave me a beautiful pep talk.

“I know you’re going through such pain and turmoil, Jen, but hang in there!  Don’t give up yet! This child will eventually eat. You can’t give in….this is too important! I’m with you, our friends are with you, you’re not alone…YOU CAN DO THIS!” His words encouraged me to stick it out just a little bit longer.

Victory! We Won the Food War!

I hung up the phone, took a big breath, turned around and pulled Gabe down from his chair. It was then that The Beautiful Thing happened. My precious little angel crawled under the table and began stuffing his mouth with the vegetables he’d thrown under the table over the previous few meals. MY CHILD WAS EATING COLD, DISGUSTING VEGETABLES OFF OF THE DIRTY KITCHEN FLOOR! YES!!! VICTORY WAS MINE!!!!

I breathed out a most heartfelt prayer of thanks to God, called Tom to tell him the good news, and then set Gabe up on his highchair again where he literally ate can after can of cold vegetables, stuffing his mouth with both hands and crying because he couldn’t get the food in fast enough!

As I write this, he is now an adolescent and a joy to eat with! Our kids have been trained to eat anything and everything that is set before them. When they eat at other peoples’ houses, I regularly hear about what good eaters they are, and that makes my mother’s heart sing.

Training Your Picky Eater to Eat What You Give Him

More than ever in our counseling of parents, the topic of picky eaters comes up. If you are in that situation, never fear, dear parent…there is hope! Getting a child to eat what you give him is actually easier than it seems. The hard part is being consistent as a parent. After all, it often seems so much easier at the moment just to give in. However, every time you give in, you are training your child to be a picky eater, and I guarantee that will make your job much harder through the years.

The key is to remember that YOU as parents are in charge of your home. A happy home comes from happy parents, and happy parents come from having their needs met. As a parent, I’m guessing you would prefer to have your children eat the food you put on their plate without whining, complaining or refusing to eat, or worse still, without you having to make special meals to cater to your child’s whimsical demands.

For this method to work the parents cannot cave in, under ANY circumstances. If you are trying to cure your Picky Eater, you must not give the child a snack or even a glass of milk or juice in between meals. There are kids that survive for years on mostly milk or juice, never learning to eat what’s placed in front of them. That is no way to live, so it’s much wiser, loads easier and well worth it to fight (and WIN) this battle early on.

It works best if a couple is united and can lean on each other for strength. However, if you are raising your child as a single parent, find a friend who can help you, or let this book be your friend. Let our victory be your victory. If we could do it, YOU CAN TOO!