3 Couples Learn to Solve Their Parenting Conflicts Together

Food Fights

"We fight about food."

Gina and Seiji

Gina and Seiji Katsurayama
Parents of Isabella, 3
Temecula, CA

Mom Says

"I try to give Isabella vegetables and other wholesome things, and she rejects everything healthy! I do my best to keep junk food away from her so that she'll be hungry for 'real' food, but my husband, Seiji, gives in. I don't want her to eat empty calories; I've fought being overweight and I don't want Isabella to share that struggle. In the morning Isabella drinks formula (she doesn't like milk) with a waffle and strawberries or a banana. At day care she eats a packed lunch such as pasta, pizza, bacon, chicken nuggets, or a peanut butter and honey sandwich. If Isabella doesn't eat what we serve, Seiji will make her a waffle for dinner. I don't want her to think she has the option to turn down my healthy meals, but Seiji says she has to have the good things in life! The pediatrician recommended a multivitamin, but she struggles with it and we give her candy to take it. It kills me that we feed her junk."

Dad Says

"Growing up, I was forced to eat whatever was put in front of me. One time my mom made me eat cream of broccoli soup, and it made me gag. When I see Isabella struggle with food, I understand. If she refuses what I offer her, I replace the offending food with something she likes.I don't push vegetables on her; she doesn't like them. We've tried to steam or sauté broccoli with different sauces, but she refuses it. When I pick her up from day care, we have a snack: popcorn, chocolates, or yogurt, or I'll give her a frozen mango fruit puree. I have a sweet tooth, so if she eats what I give her I'll share a treat with her. We definitely eat junk food between meals. We also use candy as a counting tool. We'll lay little chocolates on the table and ask, 'How many will we eat today?' I try to make it fun for her!"

The Expert

Parents advisor Elisa Zied, R.D., author of Feed Your Family Right

Zied Says

"Seiji's right that parents should never force a child to eat. Doing so can make her less likely to try and enjoy new foods. It's perfectly normal for a 3-year-old to be finicky and fussy when it comes to food. When Isabella has a growth spurt, she will be hungrier and perhaps try new foods. The key is to repeatedly offer whole foods prepared in an attractive, appealing way; Gina and Seiji can serve them on colorful plates to make eating more fun. Another great way to help Isabella get excited about eating more healthfully is to get her involved by giving age-appropriate chores: picking out produce at the store, mashing a banana, and setting the table (even if it's just placing the napkins). It's critical for Gina and Seiji to eat the foods they want to see Isabella eat. At meals she should not have separate 'kid food' but eat what her parents are eating, in a form that's safe for her age, like cut-up meats and soft-cooked vegetables. Isabella should definitely be off formula, which is specifically designed for infants' nutritional needs; a cute straw cup can make milk more appealing, though it may take several tries before she drinks it. Meanwhile, Isabella can eat a variety of calcium-rich foods like small servings of cheese and calcium-fortified orange juice (a half cup per day) and continue to have low-fat or nonfat yogurt -- at least once a day would be a good goal. Seiji and Gina could also pack healthier lunches: fruit, whole-grain crackers, and lean protein foods like chicken or turkey breast, in small amounts."

The Resolution

After trying Zied's ideas, Gina and Seiji saw success almost immediately. Isabella's tried new fruits -- she especially liked honeydew melon -- and they've reintroduced low-fat milk in a princess straw cup; she takes a few sips at a time. Seiji has put sugary treats out of sight and Isabella's favoring better snacks, like Greek yogurt. Gina's creating healthier meals for the whole family to enjoy, and Isabella's given the thumbs-up to fish, miso soup with tofu, and oven-baked chicken. "Our final frontier is veggies," says Gina, "but we're encouraged that she'll warm to them, especially as I get her more involved in the shopping."

Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Parents magazine.

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