If You Give a Kid a Cookie…

Chocolate_chip_cookie The headline on MSNBC yesterday read, "Strict Parents Tend To Have Overweight Kids."  The article explains the results of a study conducted at Boston University:

Strict mothers were nearly five times more likely to raise tubby first-graders than mothers who treated their children with flexibility and respect while also setting clear rules.

But while the children of flexible rule-setting moms avoided obesity, the children of neglectful mothers and permissive mothers were twice as likely to get fat.

Meaning that, once again, we moms are on the hook to strike the perfect balance of laid-backness vs. up-tightness.  Exhausting, isn’t it?

Although this article is speaking about parenting styles in general (not just related to food), it does raise an issue I think of often–am I overseeing my kids eating habits well?  I have never been overly strict about sugar (largely–no pun intended–because I like it so much myself.)  We have junk food in our house; to eliminate it altogether would, I’ve always felt, turn it into a "forbidden fruit".  So there are Little Debbies in the cupboard and Fudge Stripes in the cookie jar, and the kids know they don’t have free reign in the kitchen.  I allow them to have "sugar snacks" (as we call them) once an afternoon, and sometimes after dinner, if they eat an especially good meal.  Other snacks have to be "healthy" (peanut butter, cheese, yogurt, bananas, etc.) 

Our mealtime rules require that the kids take one bite of everything on their plates.  If, after one bite, the child doesn’t like it, he doesn’t have to eat anymore of that particular food item.  If I can tell it’s a legitimate issue of taste, I let it drop; if it’s more of a issue of stubborness, I’ll refrigerate the leftovers and, when they say they’re hungry (which they inevitably will), I offer them the leftovers.  I am NOT a short order cook–I just don’t have the time for it.  If they get hungry enough, they’ll eat has always been my kitchen mantra. 

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I’ve not had to deal with overly picky eaters.  I’m guessing this is not a result of my "good parenting", but more likely because God knew I would pull my hair out!  I have friends who have faced real challenges in this area, and my heart goes out to them.

In light of this topic, I’d be interested to hear your parenting philosophies on the subject of feeding your kids.   Have you discovered any tips that make dinner time more peaceful?  You experienced parents of picky eaters, have discovered any miracle "cures"? 

Remember that tomorrow is Works-For-Me Wednesday.  If you’d like to participate, please join in!  Guidelines, if you need them, can be found here.

40 thoughts on “If You Give a Kid a Cookie…

  1. edj says:

    I saw that article too! I’m sorry, but I think lack of exercise and junk food are more likely to cause childhood overweight issues than strict parenting. Doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe I’m sensitive, as my oldest is a bit chubby–but then, the kid loves carbs! We limit sweets and sweet drinks, but he’ll eat 3 sandwiches! Also we live in the desert, where it’s often too hot to play outside. On top of that, his dad was a chubby kid, until he outgrew it as a teenager. I’m pretty sure this has more to do with it than our parenting styles. But maybe I shouldn’t rely so much on common sense.
    The writers of that article would probably not like me much, as I have a really low tolerance for picky eaters in my own family. (Don’t care about other people’s kids–not my problem) It’s just that, right outside my front door, a family lives in a tent with some really skinny kids who don’t even go to school. I have never seen a picky Mauritanian kid–only picky American kids. If you’re truly hungry, you don’t care if you’ve had to pick bugs out of your rice, or if supper is just a plate of rice and an onion sauce, with maybe just a tiny bit of meat.
    I make my kids eat whatever I’ve cooked–oh sure they can pick out the green peppers or the olives, up to a point, but they have to eat at least some of whatever I’ve made. If they’re hungry, they’ll eat. Of course I don’t (usually) make things they hate, and try to have plenty of healthy between-meal options around.

  2. mopsy says:

    Shannon, I sound exactly like you. We have a “one bite” rule too, and I am not a short order cook, especially at dinner. My kids are nowhere near overweight. In fact a couple of them are so tall and skinny that if adjustable waist pants didn’t exist, they’d be in serious trouble.
    We have one *extemely* picky eater. My cousin only ate canned green beans when he was little (weird, huh?). The ped. told my aunt when he got older the peer pressure at school would inspire him to branch out—he’d want to eat what other non-sibling kids ate. Waiting worked. He’s a chemistry major in college, so all the beans didn’t hurt him.
    We offer different foods to our picky eater but don’t make it into a battle, and he has improved. When he hears the other kids oohing and aahing over my rockin’ tuna casserole, you can see the wheels turning in his head. One of these days, he will ask for a scoop.

  3. p says:

    We run the whole gamut at our house. Libbyline is my best eater, rarely refusing anything but green beans. Sweetcheeks went through a stage of pickiness, but now is pretty agreeable to most meal choices.
    We have the same rule at our house — you have to try at least a bite of everything on your plate, eating the number of bites that correspond with your age if we detect it’s just a control issue.
    JD Green is another issue altogether. Once “big people” food began to cross his plate he began the mutiny. His repertoire of acceptable food items is short; and no matter of haggling, bribing, or demanding will loosen the lips of this 6-year-old.
    He is required to taste new items when they appear at a meal, but I do not offer other choices. We just tell him it is a long time until breakfast and excuse him from the table if he can’t enjoy sitting with us at the table.
    This has been a constant thorn for us, because the results of JD not eating at meal time ends up causing him to stealthfully raid the pantry in the middle of the night.
    I’d appreciate alternative methods from anyone who has advice for this all-out picky eater. I just don’t want to battle it every meal, and I’m not interested in being the short order cook either.

  4. mom2fur says:

    When my son was about 12 (he’s now 19), a doctor told him if he kept gaining weight at the rate he was at, he’d hit better than 300 pounds by the time he was 16. He’s a big boy, with very large bones, so he’ll never be skinny. But what that wise doctor advised was to have a ‘snack night.’ One day a week, the kid could have anything he wanted, while he had to be careful the rest of the week. I agree with you that totally forbidding goodies makes them forbidden fruit! James always looked forward to what we called ‘candy night.’ He’s still a big boy, but he’s not the 300+ pounder he could have been! (In fact, as a young adult he’s become much more aware of what he eats, health-wise. He’s really big on salads–and eats them with plain red wine vinegar.) The funny thing is…we still do ‘candy night,’ every Friday!

  5. mom2fur says:

    Oh, and one more thing: maybe those poor kids are finding love and acceptance in food because they can’t please their overly strict parents! An Oreo Cookie never tells you: “You aren’t good enough”!

  6. mom2fur says:

    Here I am again: Peach, what about having help you actually prepare the food? Another thing I did with a new food was to ‘taste’ it in the kitchen in front of my kids and make a big deal out of how good it was. Believe me, kids can’t stand someone else having a goodie without having some, too! (I’d also back off a little and not make a deal out of him not eating at all. Dinner should not be a battle ground. Meals were sometimes horrible experiences when I was a kid. I don’t believe in making a kid eat something he/she truly hates. But I do agree that all foods should be tasted at least once! And I love the # of bites=age of kid rule!)

  7. Stephanie says:

    We are the family that doesn’t have junk in the house- and this is partly so hubby and I aren’t tempted, but also we are trying to set an example for the kids. There are still times after the kids go to bed that hubby and I run out for a treat, and we most certainly let Carter have a treat on special occasions. But, mostly his snacks and treats everyday are of the healthy or fruit variety! So, I think that has helped curb picky eating, as my 3-yr old loves carrots & dip, asparagus, and the weird things we eat like Thai food and hummus. And also, we don’t make an issue or big deal out of it. This way just seemed to “happen” and wasn’t something we really set out to do. I think that matters, too. We are definitely more laid back than anything, but don’t have the “less healthy” stuff available in the house 24/7.

  8. meredith says:

    I try and make sure my girls eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day. If I know they’ve skipped a fruit or veggie at a meal, than a snack won’t be icecream or a cookie, but if they’ve had their count, then snack time is more open to sugary choices. Also, at meal times, I always serve the vegetable first, before the meat or carbohydrates that they so love to fill up on.

  9. Mary says:

    You’ll like this. I realize this has nothing to do with being a picky eater but…I once had a three or four hour stand-off with my niece because she wouldn’t say please. I can’t even remember what it was about (I know it was food related – she wanted something) but I know that she wouldn’t say please.
    I remember my brother telling me to just give it to her and I said no. So we waited it out. I eventually won, I think. It was 17 years ago and that it the way I remember it.
    Her food was cold and we heated it up in the microwave and then we had hugs and kisses and had a good time. Boy was that kid stubborn.

  10. Mary says:

    Um, before you think I am a terribly mean Aunt. I love my niece and usually did not deny her things. This was just something that stuck out in my mind. I would never intentionally hurt any child. We were going through a stage. She always said please to me after this stand-off.

  11. Laura says:

    I had terribly strict parents. They were strict about everything, including the amount of sugar we took in – no soda, rare candy and deserts were a huge treat. Both my sisters and I are all headed into our 30’s and are each at a pretty healthy weight.
    However, I will say that their strict (I’m talking little to no allowances ever for “fun” food) parenting caused us to all have poor eating habits as we were able to make our own choices. We didn’t rebel and do drugs or anything, but we all eat pretty terribly now. With my daughter watching me and wanting everything I eat, I’m really having to change the way I eat too – no more brownies or fruit loops for breakfast. And I found out that if I pig out on cookies in the afternoon, I’d better be prepared to hand one over to the whining toddler. I can’t wait till she’s able to say “it’s not fair, you’re doing it!” šŸ˜‰

  12. Rachel says:

    I totally agree with you – I’m not a short order cook and my kids will eat when they’re hungry enough! They are allowed to have sweets at parties, and once in a while at home, but we don’t keep it in the house in general so it’s usually not an issue. We don’t keep it in the house mainly so I don’t end up eating it all!

  13. Rabbit says:

    I have two extremes in my house. Moose (turns 5 in 3 wks) will eat anything. Raw broccoli, steamed clams, artichokes. Pie (age 7) has Sensory Integration Disorder and she is VERY picky. Food textures are a major issue. Since we’ve taken pretty much the same approach to eating with both kids, I have to conclude that some kids just have issues with food and others don’t. There’s so much more to it, I’m going to springboard into my own blog post from here, or I’d take up three feet of your comment space!

  14. GiBee says:

    Wow… this is a great topic. I have a feeling I’ll be one of those moms that FREAKS over sweets. My sister’s 9 year old was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes two years ago. She got so sick, and ended up in the hospital in ketoacidosis (sp?) … Her sugar level was 850 (it should be around 100-120). the doctor pretty much told my sister to “say her goodbyes” because they didn’t think she’d make it. Well, after much prayer, she did make it. She’s a very happy little girl now. But … this freaks me out. We now know it runs in the family, and my son has a 50/50 chance of getting it…
    We water his juice down (25% juice 75% water), but we do allow fruits and healthy baby cereals. We will probably keep a tight reign on his sugar intake, but still allow some moderate sugar intake… that sounded confusing.
    When my niece lived with us, our rule was the same as many of you … one bite of everything, and if she really didn’t like it, she wouldn’t have to eat it. SHE was a selective eater.
    I’ll do the same with my son (I like Peach’s idea about # of bites vs. age) but like Shannon, I will not be a short order cook.
    And Shannon … I agree with your kitchen mantra … If they get hungry enough, they’ll eat.
    Hey, you should make that into a sign and sell it!

  15. Jeana's mama Jan says:

    When our kids were growing up, they each got to choose one food that they never had to even take a bite of when it was served. Other than that, they ate what I put on the table, and no discussion. One chose liver (predictable, right?) but another chose *green beans*. Well, it was their choice. We didn’t have the money to fix exotice or expensive meals, just good down-home cooking, and what you saw was what you got. Jeana’s kids, by the way, say “Yay, Mimi brought raw broccoli and dip!” whenever I show up with one of my raw veggie trays.

  16. Tess says:

    My parents were so strict with junk food that we did sneak. One time I hid a piece of pizza under my mattress. Forgot about it. For about 3 months. But like Laura said, when I got out of the house, shoo, my whole cabinet was just whatever I wanted to eat. That’s why I gained so much weight! My husband even complained that I would eat all the good stuff before he even realized it was there. Now that I have worked very hard to change my mindset about food (it is for nutrition only, not for comfort, reward, or stress reliever) I can take or leave the ice cream on most occasions. So, I think it just is a matter of moderation in all things.

  17. Karla says:

    Our Bean is only 22 months old, so I’m by no means a parenting pro. šŸ˜‰ The way you’re handling the situation sounds pretty close to what we have in mind for handling ours when the day of picky eating starts. Keep up the good work!

  18. mom2fur says:

    I just took a closer look at edj’s comment. It’s really a telling thing that you never hear of a picky child from a poor country. What it’s telling me is that all this is most often soooo not about food! It’s a power thing, isn’t it? Mary, I don’t think you were mean at all. You were asking for a simple ‘please.’ You weren’t asking the kid to eat a bowl of raw onions!

  19. Shalee says:

    Well, like you, God has blessed me with a first child who likes to eat most anything, sushi and spinach included. My son is the “picky” one of the two, but even that is a lame description of his eating preferences. He must at least try a bite of something, even if it is something that he has tried before (because sometimes our tasters are off on different days.) I know the things that he doesn’t like, so I make sure that I don’t give him a lot of the stuff that he doesn’t care for.
    Our rule for cereals is this: They have to have one good for you cereal (Cheerios, Chex, Kix, Rice Krispies, etc.) before they can have a sweet cereal. (They usually want 2 bowls.)
    Lunch: I try to pack something sweet in the lunch just because I thing it is nice to have a treat in the middle of the day, especially if you are at school.
    Dinner: Dinner is whatever is prepared. I will not cook any other meals mainly because it is a blessing that I managed to prepare the first one after a day at work! Sometimes we have dessert; sometimes we don’t. If we do, they have to eat a good dinner before they get the dessert. I cannot see rewarding a child for not eating the dinner provided.
    I think moderation is the key, that and knowing your kids well.
    Oh, and when we have company over, the house rules apply. If I won’t make another meal for my child, I’m not going to do it for someone else’s. Parents do a disservice to their children when they teach them that others will cater to their whims. It won’t happen out in the real world… or in my kitchen either.

  20. Susanne says:

    We had the rule of eating as many bites as how old you are. Growing up my mom cooked with enough for leftovers. If you ate it the “fresh” night you wouldn’t have to eat it the leftover night.

  21. good, bad and ugly says:

    This idea is very simple and maybe only helpful for young preschoolers, but…I read in Creative Correction an idea that I use. When I cook a meal with veggies that I know my kids won’t enjoy I serve them a small amount any way. Then everyone gets a candle and can blow out his candle when his plate is clean. The kids respond well to this game and gobble down the veggies before they know it just to be the first one to blow out the candle.

  22. Rebecca says:

    Oh, that hit close to home for me. I have one kid who will eat anything, and one who will eat next to nothing – we don’t want to be the kind of parents who make a separate supper for a fussy kid, but she really seems to find many things very upsetting. It’s not getting better as she gets older, either – it’s just something we constantly have to deal with as parents. There are lots of great ideas in the comments – I’m going to try out some of them and see how they work.

  23. Jennifer says:

    This post hits home for me! I don’t remember my 7 year old daughter being too picky as she started eating grown up food. She didn’t eat everything, but she got her share of fruits, veggies and of course carbs and sweets.
    My boy just turned two, and we are already battling it! Sometimes he will eat apples and bananas and grape tomatoes and green beans like they are his favorite, and a few days later he refuses to take a bite. So, instead of dealing with a palate problem, I think it’s stubbornness, so I’m trying to figure out the best way to deal with that. I want to keep offering, so that his palate tolerates the “good stuff,” but it’s tiring saying no over and over again when he’s on a poptart jag. . . .

  24. Holly says:

    We started out with a one bite rule. But the one bite more like lick we changed to a “few bites.” I got so tired of answering if they could be done taking bites I changed again. We now have a small portion that must be eaten, very small if I think they will really hate it. We have one VERY picky eater. She has spent several evenings at the table wishing those peas away. If she just won’t eat she may get down, but can not have snack after dinner. Over time our meals have become easier. She has developed a taste for some healther foods that she would not have accepted in the past. As far as snacks go we have both healthy and non-healthy. They have to ask when they get a snack and I tell them what their choices are.

  25. Laura says:

    my whole philosophy on getting kids to eat, picky eaters and all that changed BIG TIME with the arrival of #5…I thought I knew everything until I watched my youngest literally starve himself as an infnat. Eating was a painful scary thing for him so he would much rather starve. He had a gastrstomy tube (tube in his stomach) for 4 years and I have blogged about it ad nauseum. Amazing how something so simple like eating that we give no thought actually is so mething so big when you are teaching a child to learn how to eat with his mouth rather than the tube sticking out of his belly. The tube is now gone but the struggle still continues as he is half the size of most “normal” four year olds.
    I no longer dare to even cluck my tongue at “permissive” or “clueless” parents because we have lived a hell most of your readers have no idea about….neither do most pediatricians, believe me.

  26. Teri says:

    My husband emailed this article to me. I have 3 kiddos, my oldest and youngest are fairly good eaters. They know they have to finish what is on their plates, I put a small amount of anything they might not like, or it is their next meal. I do try, and if I know that no one will like what I am making to at least make pasta or a favorite veggie.
    David is a different story. He has several health issues, and food is a huge issue. He will not eat certain foods, and if he skips a meal there are huge ramifications health wise. After a lot of trial and error, we have somewhat settled on what works. I try to make at least one thing he likes for dinner and if I don’t he can have left-overs or cereal. While I don’t want to be a short order cook, his health mandates it to an extent.
    We limit sweet snacks, but they aren’t forbidden. My trio will typically pick fruit as a snack, and several times I’ve bought cookies that are eaten once and then forgotten.

  27. Faith says:

    I was/am a strict mother and my kids(the grown ones) are not overweight! Now little man is kinda hefty!!! It’s soo cute! That’s just what formula does for ya though!!

  28. Stephanie says:

    I saw that article!
    Umm, I try to make my kids eat a few bites at least of whatever it is that they don’t like. But I never liked being forced to eat gross stuff, so I try to be careful with them.

  29. Annette Burkett says:

    I think it has to do with picking your battles and society and others make an issue of it and force you to make a battle out of it. I have picky eaters, but didn’t take much notice of it until someone else pointed it out. I just fixed what I knew they would eat and what I didn’t mind eating too!

  30. Supermom says:

    So, that explains it!! Here I thought it was the late night Oreos and ice cream that was making me fat and it was my parenting syle all along.
    We do pretty much the same thing, except I have them take three bites instead of one. Every so often I have them re-try things they don’t like, just to see if they might like it.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog šŸ™‚ BTW – I think you and I might be neighbors.

  31. Lei says:

    No tips… just wanted to say our philosophies seem to be very much the same… everything in moderation, basically! That, and I think that good eating habits are established as early as spoon feeding is!

  32. Katherine says:

    Great post. We just emphasize serving size (do you really need that second helping?) and making good food choices. It’s a lifelong process.

  33. Robin says:

    I don’t have time to read anyone’s comments, so I apologize if I’m redundant. I tell Reia that when dinner is over and she says she’s done, THE KITCHEN IS CLOSED. I don’t make anything else and she has to suck it up until breakfast. I don’t do this for Reese just yet since she is 18 mos, but her time will come too!

  34. Jennie C. says:

    I consider it somewhat rude to not eat food that their daddy worked so hard to earn and I spent so much time preparing. That said, they serve themselves. Even the baby, who loves vegetables and usually heaps those on her plate. They have to take a reasonable amount (I’ve seen them try to put one green bean on the plate) and they have to eat what they’ve taken. Anyone who finishes all her dinner gets a small dessert, which is frequently something like applesauce or icecream and occassionally cookies. Sometimes only one kid gets dessert and sometimes only one kid doesn’t, but if you weren’t hungry enough for dinner, you aren’t hungry enough for dessert. See you at breakfast.

  35. kep says:

    I did a post on my daycare blog about this last week, since I feed eight kids every day. It’s an ongoing battle, that’s for sure.
    When I was a kid I was the weird one who never had anything “good” in my lunchbox. We ate healthy all the time, not so much by my choice, and when I went to college and found out I could eat pizza at midnight I gained a lot of weight. Now I find I have no willpower.
    One rule my mom had that I liked and use now is “if you talk about it, you have to eat it”. The food goes on your plate, you have to try one bite, but if you don’t whine about how yucky it is, you don’t have to finish it. I used to make my little sister stop eating by telling her it was gross so my mom instituted that rule.

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