As a mom of 6, I am often asked for parenting advice. This one rule I instituted took on a life of its own. One person saw me do it, and she started and off it went. I was told to put it up on here.
I grew up with parents who believed children should be seen and not heard. They should obey immediately which I discovered isn’t a bad thing. However, the biggest issue growing up was food. Due to a lack of money, we never had snacks and rarely had dessert. It was considered a waste of money. We would come home from school starving and have to wait until dinner was cooked. Sometimes this could be hours away depending on their work schedules. There were many times we went 6-8 hours without eating.
The rule was: you clean your plate, period. It didn’t matter if you liked the food or not. My brother and I would literally sit at the table for hours, because we weren’t allowed to leave until we finished. For years this went on until one night my father lost his temper as we passed by him to leave the kitchen.
We refused to eat our corn and it was now midnight. We were told to go to bed. He was slightly physically abusive to begin with, due to a total lack of parenting experience (step-father), plus various stressors, but this time I ended up in the emergency room with stitches. I got smacked on the back of the head which knocked me headfirst into the stove corner. He was horrified, and I was rushed to the emergency room.
DH was forced to clear his plate also, but he didn’t have the negative outcome I did. It taught him to at least tolerate all foods. There is very little he won’t eat. He can’t stand tea and plain rice.
When I had my children, I decided that I wasn’t going to ever make them clear their plates. They could eat what they wanted. This turned into a big mistake.
#1 (DD1) ate everything you served her. There were very few foods she wouldn’t eat, and she was willing to try everything.
#2 (DD2) wouldn’t eat meat and mainly ate raw vegetables. She didn’t care for cooked unless it was corn. Normally this might be okay, but she was anemic, pale and very thin. At one point, she was put on liquid iron because her health was being affected. She was also tested for various diseases like Leukemia at a young age. Other than very low iron, her tests were normal.
#3 (DS1) went through stages, but if it had sugar, it was his.
#4 (DD3) ate mainly meat. She was, and is, my carnivore. Getting her to eat vegetables or fruit was like pulling teeth with an ice cube.
#5 (DS2) loved fruit but not much else
#6 (DS3) would only eat processed meat like hot dogs. If it resembled the color green, he avoided it like the plague.
I did not want to force them to eat, but I couldn’t let their health suffer. For that reason, and my sanity, we instituted the “No thank you bite” rule. Each child would take one good-sized bite, swallow it and if they didn’t care for it, say “No, thank you.” No cheating allowed. If they were caught cheating, they had to take two bites. Because of this rule, several realized they actually liked steamed corn, Mr. Processed Foods discovered Spinach wasn’t so bad after all and neither were carrots, none like green beans, among other things throughout the years.
However, to get dessert, they had to eat at least half their dinner. This was to prevent them from claiming they didn’t like anything and skip straight to the “good stuff”. Portions were sized according to their normal appetites and age. Dessert servings were also sized to their age and how much they ate at dinner.
I made sure that there was one item each meal that each child would eat. If we had chicken, mashed potatoes, corn and applesauce I knew that most of them would eat 3 out of 4 items. If I made spaghetti, salad (salad bar style), and grapes I knew that #6 would eat the carrots and grapes.
They learned very quickly that using “I’m full.” to avoid eating dinner also caused them to miss dessert, because we didn’t want them to “get sick by eating dessert on a full tummy”. Now that most are adults, my eldest uses this rule on her own children, and my ex-daughter in law started it with my son’s children. The others say they plan on using it for theirs as well.
One of my friends saw me doing this with my children, and she started it with hers. It quickly spread through our circle of people we know offline and on. Now, if we hear someone saying they can’t get their kids to eat anything, we recommend this method. It saved me from worrying about their health, and so far no one has food issues.