Want to Raise a Good Eater? Let Your Child Make These 3 Mistakes

by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on September 3, 2015

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Everywhere I turn, some expert is talking about the problem of over-involved parents. A new book that was recently reviewed on the NY Times, “The Gift of Failure,” explains how children are better off when they can actually make mistakes on their own. Because, well, that’s how they learn.

But watching a kid struggle when we know the answer — or how to do it better — isn’t always easy. One area completely overlooked in this realm of failing is eating. To learn about food, eating and their body, kids need to mess up. So here are the top three “learning mistakes” I think kids need to experience.

1. Let Them Get Hungry: When a child says he’s hungry, it can send any adult into a panic searching for food. But what does this teach? Hunger is something that needs to be attended to immediately. Whether that’s the intention or not, kids catch on that hunger is something to get rid of quick.

When my kids say they are hungry before dinner I always answer with “good, you’ll enjoy the meal more.” We want kids to learn that pangs of hunger do not need to be fixed immediately. When kids experience the consequence of not getting enough at meals, they are incentivized to fill up when they get the chance. And when they don’t always see favorite food at gatherings — and they choose not to eat — they learn what happens: hunger. Putting aside medical conditions and special circumstances, the occasional longer-than-parents-like bout of hunger teaches kids how to do a better job of managing their hunger.

2. Let Them Eat Too Much: “Don’t eat too much, you’ll get a tummy ache.” Parents often hover to make sure kids get just the right amount of sweets. But eating past fullness, especially non-nutritious items, teaches kids a few different lessons.

First, it can remove the taboo from non-nutritious foods. If my kids seem to be obsessed about some food, I plan an eat-all-you-can snack. Sure enough, they stop asking for it.  It squashes their curiosity instead of piquing it.

Second, they can learn the adverse effects of eating too much of food that simply isn’t good at nourishing the body. Big A now realizes that starchy foods, like Cheese-Its, don’t fill her up. She learned that thanks to her weekly visit to Grandma’s.

A child can only learn the limits of his body by experiencing them.

3. Let Them Cook Their Way: Big A made guacamole from start to finish the other night with no help from me. It ended up way to watery. You better believe next time she will add less yogurt and salsa. We talked about how you can always add more so it’s best to start off small.

Those nice and neat pictures of kids helping in the kitchen are not real! It gets messy and they make mistakes. But then one time they get it and their confidence builds. And you realize the mistakes are what taught them.

Coco, a mom of two girls 6 and 8, has had her kids helping in the kitchen since they were two. Now they can cook simple meals on their own. But she remembers lots of mistakes, ” We once made pizza and whilst making the dough, my daughter accidentally put too much liquid into the flour and it became more like a paste,” she says. “We played with the paste on the table for a while and the pizza ended up having bread as its base.”

There’s a myth that good eaters always eat a variety of foods, stop after consuming balanced portions, are natural cooks and only want one cookie (if that!). No, the kids who grow into good eaters are the ones who were allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. Of course, with supportive parents there to help guide them.

What are some food mistakes your kid has made?

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Dinner Rotation: August-September

by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on August 28, 2015

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School has started for us and it’s time to tighten up the meal routine. I only made some minor changes to my dinner rotation this time around. In San Diego where I live, it stays hot well into fall. I will add some cold weather food the next time around. Some new faves include pollo asado and  pasta primavera with garlic and roasted summer veggies.

And I’m not sure why it has took me so long, but I’m making my own pico de gallo. It’s so easy to make and awesome for Mexican night. It’s even better the next day with some eggs and beans! See my Facebook post for easy recipe. click to continue

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The 5 “Hows” of Packing School Lunch for Picky Eaters

August 20, 2015
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It’s the time of year for lunch-packing. Parents of picky eaters may dread the thought of coming up with a balanced lunch for their kids, day in and day out. If you serve the same thing, you feel guilty for the lack of variety. But if it’s something new, it comes home uneaten. I can’t […]




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5 Ways to Boost Your Child’s Independence in the Kitchen

August 14, 2015
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I’m reading How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims. The book details how parents today do way too much for their kids. There are various reasons for this, including nonstop extracurricular activities and school work. The problem is when kids leave home, they know how to get an A on a test and kick […]




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How to Make Grilled Vegetable Kabobs in 5 Easy Steps [Recipe Included]

August 6, 2015
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I love grilled vegetables. I have tried a few different vegetable kabob recipes but wanted to focus on a base recipe for my summer rotation. After doing some research, I found some secrets to grilling veggie skewers to perfection. Here are the top 5:




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The Side Strategy That Has Saved My Family’s Mealtime

July 30, 2015
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When Big A turned two, I realized that making two meals for dinner wasn’t working. But getting her to the table right as she was entering the picky stage was no easy task. What kept our family meals going in those early days was having something at the table she accepted. It helped her adapt […]




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7 Dinner Rules That Will Transform Your Family’s Mealtime

July 22, 2015
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I would love to have your key points summarized on a wee poster so I can remind myself and educate my husband also. Do you have such a thing available? This request came just as I was working on a chapter in my upcoming book on dinner rules. Having some very basic meal guidelines posted […]

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Eat Like a Champion (Review and Giveaway)

July 13, 2015
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There comes a time when kids enter the world of organized sports. And if they enjoy and stick with it, things begin to change. Appetites increase, schedules get out of whack and performance matters. One very overlooked aspect of how well a child performs in any sport is nutrition. Jill Castle, my coauthor of Fearless […]




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Dinner Rotation: July-August

July 7, 2015
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Now that I’m back from vacation, it’s time to tweak my rotation for summer. As you can see, I’m adding a grill night and opting for some more summer-type meals like pasta primavera. I’m also working on my summer sides, which was the driving force behind my recent post on BBQ sides. I just love […]

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An Unconventional Way to Educate Kids About Nutrition (and Why it Works)

July 2, 2015
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It was Sunday morning and Big A pointed out that she was going to have dessert three times that day. First was cake at church to celebrate her first communion, second was a birthday party and third was dinner at Granny’s. In a very serious tone she said, “Granny always has dessert.” I could have […]




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