Mealtime Manipulation; Toddlers to Teenagers 

 July 24, 2013

By  Lorna

Persuading Toddlers to Teenagers to Eat Healthy Food

Knowing and wanting your children to eat healthy food is one thing. Getting them to do it is another. As they learn to exert their own will and say ‘no’ in the various stages of their development, rather than the stress of forcing, lecturing, giving ultimatums or any of that ‘bad vibe’ stuff, try using a bit of merry manipulation. It’s fun, creative, and time better spent for all of you. Instead of a ‘battle of wills’, mealtime can be fun and a bit playful – and we all know how well kids learn through play.

Basically, whatever ‘turns them on’ at that particular age of their life can inspire you to create that same sense of fun with food. Get them eating it without them associating it to something they don’t like. Here are some ideas . . .

You can turn it into a game of cause and effect. Every time you take a bite out of it, it makes you do something. You can’t help it – it’s as if the food takes control of your body! Take a bite out of their food and pretend it makes your arm wiggle all over the place. Oh no, this food makes me hop on one leg! And when I eat this, it makes me fall to the ground as if I am dead for 5 seconds. Then, let them try it.

During the particularly defiant stages, sitting beside my son with my plate just close enough for him to reach it, I’d try things like “I didn’t give you any “X” because I’m afraid you’ll like it too much and I don’t feel like sharing so whatever you do, don’t touch it” (said in a mock stern tone). They love to defy so use that against them. Is it manipulation, perhaps, yet is it fun. You bet! I once told him that the reason I didn’t want him to eat a particular food is that it will make him invisible to me for 5 seconds. Of course I’d find reasons to look away or get up for something – always able to see him somehow in my peripheral vision or in a reflection. Then, when I notice he eats it, I make a big do about ”oh no, where is my son! He was here a second ago, I can’t see him anywhere!” Then 5 seconds later, pretend you can see him again. Or, pretend when they eat a certain food, it makes You do something – so they have fun manipulating you.

One afternoon, my 2 young sons and I saw a show about dinosaurs – herbivores. After, I rigged lettuce leaves on bungee cords and hung them over the backs of chairs and other fixtures and we’d walk around the room like dinosaurs eating the leaves. I’d been trying to get them to eat lettuce for ages and this worked like a charm.

Pizza is a great place to sneak healthy food into them. I got away with hiding broccoli, cabbage, carrots, beets, lots of veggies under that layer of melted cheese. For 1 son, I called it ‘Rainbow Pizza’ – he loved rainbows. And for the older son, when he questioned the unusual colours in the pizza, (my inspiration was the Monty Python skit about the chocolates filled with lark’s vomit?), I just told him it was bugs, monster vomit and Kryptonite. He couldn’t wait to eat it.

From a young age, we started the tradition of a fruit drink each morning. Fresh and frozen fruit, juice and add yogurt or flax oil (hardly noticeable in taste) to keep the drink from separating. Makes great Popsicles, too. It’s easy, fast, and delicious. And with a supply of various frozen fruit it provides fantastic variety and combinations.

Of course as they got older, they were pretty well trained to eat a variety of things yet if they still tried to get out of it, I’d try other types of merry manipulation like – public peer pressure. Elementary school boys don’t want to be embarrassed in front of their friends so I’d threaten to give them a big slobbery kiss in front of everyone if they didn’t eat some of the healthy stuff. Yep, that worked. As they became tall, strong, teenagers, I had to change my strategy so I’d threatened to show my old lady stomach if they didn’t finish their food. Even though I am in good shape, no teenager wants to see their mothers stomach – ewwww.

Parenting comes with such responsibility and when it comes to healthy nutrition for our children, try a bit of merry manipulation. It’s fun, creative and reduces stress.

Bon appetite!


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