Family Food Rules

Before I talk about our food rules at home, I want to address the “Clean Plate Club”. This “rule” annoys me to no end. The rule bothers me because it teaches kids to ignore their ‘fullness meter’. They will stop when they have enough. Not to mention, they are a lot smaller than adults. They don’t need as much as an adult! Secondly, you cannot expect kids to like everything you put on their plate. Very few people like EVERYTHING. Yes, encourage them to try it, but don’t force them to eat Brussels sprouts if they truly don’t like it.


I have two sets of rules- one for mama and one for the family. The idea of the “mama rules” is to make mamas life easier. The idea for the family rules is to learn to appreciate food, nutrition and encouragement to try something new.

So, for mama!

1. Get them in the kitchen. Let your kids help select the menu for the week, wash and prep veggies, set the table or help wash dishes. The point is to show the kids that there is work involved in planning dinner, it doesn’t magically appear on the table. Yes, it will take longer. But in 10 years, when your now 4 year old is 14, they will have skills to confidently make simple meals by herself, for the family, while baby-sitting or for her friends. An investment that will pay off in a few years when you can trust your kids to start dinner without you or even hand the reigns over one night a week to get a break.

2. Make something they like. When introducing something new, make something you know they like to go with it. It can take many, many, many tries to start to like something. (What was something that you hated as a kid that you like now? For me, it’s asparagus!) At the same time, if you know your child doesn’t like meat loaf, but the rest of the family does, go ahead and make it. Choose filling sides the whole family likes. It’s ok to require the child to try a bite and than allow him to make a PBJ or leftovers from the night before. Be prepared if it’s a younger child that would need help.

3. Make accommodations IF they are reasonable. Don’t bend over backwards and make a completely different meal, but be reasonable. Reasonable is something like taking out a piece of chicken before you add the spices, or sauce to bake or grill separately or scooping out some cooked ground beef before adding in the sloppy Joe stuff. This doesn’t make extra work for you but it does let the child have something that’s similar to the rest of the family.

4. Give them a kid size portion, but not “kid food”. Kids need a smaller amount. They are smaller. It makes sense. Use smaller plates, silverware and cups. We have real silverware for the girls, but they are kid sized. They use the salad plates so they match our dinner plates. But you can’t expect kids who have been given chicken nuggets, mac n cheese and fruit snacks to suddenly like grilled chicken breast, whole grain pasta and whole fruit and vegetables just because “they are old enough”. There is no reason that kids can’t eat the same food as adults. Give them a chance to like the good food before you assume they won’t. (For the record- we keep Annie’s mac N cheese on hand for quick meals. I add in chicken and broccoli and it’s delicious! And my girls always want chicken and fries when we go out to eat. We allow it because I know they are getting good, whole food at home.)

5. Food is not a reward or bribe. This is the hardest for me. I am emotionally linked to food. I want my girls to have a healthy relationship with food, so I try hard not to reward good behavior with treats or clean plates with dessert. That’s not to say they automatically get dessert. But I don’t make dessert every night either. Maybe once every two weeks. And usually it’s to satisfy mama’s sweet tooth. Most nights, after dinner, we will all have some fruit- applesauce, pears or peaches we canned in lite syrup or a handful of grapes. Yes, of course, the girls are required to eat some of their dinner if they want dessert, but I will not withhold it if I feel they have eaten enough good things throughout the day to balance it out!

For the family!

1. Eating is a family event. Set the table and have everyone sit together- even those choosing not to eat. Encourage conversation and family bonding. Use your manners. And always say thank you to the cook!

2. No negative talk about food. They don’t have to like what you make, but they can’t complain about it. Food is not bad, icky, gross etc. Focus on nutrition, and encourage better choices. We talk about how fruit and vegetables help feed their cells and make them healthy. Keep it on a level that they will understand. No need to talk about free radicals and antioxidants or things like that but certainly tell them fruit and vegetables help them grow strong!

3. Try it. They have to try three bite of everything. Remind them they might like it. They may choose not to eat it, but then they still need to sit there at the table with us. Three bites was chosen carefully, based on watching Krissy. If I made her take one bite, she would spit it out and claim she “tried” it. I was slow, but I caught on! The second bite she would actually chew. The third bite lets them decide if they like it or not. 9 times out of 10, she’ll will finish her plate. Oh- and allow them to try it how they want. They may come up with some crazy combinations, but if combining applesauce and mashed potatoes gets it into their tummy… go for it.

If its something I know they like, but are being difficult, I make them eat one bite for every year old they are of each item. This is mostly for Krissy. Mia will eat anything I put in front of her. Krissy is very much a visual eater. If she doesn’t like the way it looks she will not put it in her mouth. I have no scientific backing for this, but I believe it has to do with pica. Once I get her to put it in her mouth, if it does not “feel good’ to her, she will spit it out, or gag. She is the reason the mama rules were created. It is much easier to cook a plain chicken breast then fight over parsley.

Our family is far from perfect when it comes to food, and I certainly don’t know everything. I just wanted to share what we have found works for us. That leads me to my very last rule- MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU! You know your kids better than anyone else. Use it to your advantage! If your kids eating habits are less than stellar, go easy on them. Start with small changes. Make it fun. You can do it, Mama!

My original post is at
This version has minor revision based on changes in the girls.

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